Letter to Clients and Friends About Coronavirus’ Impact on your Case.

North Mississippi Attorneys

Holcomb Dunbar is closely monitoring the rapidly evolving Coronavirus situation and its impact on our employees, families, and clients.

We are following public health recommendations to protect the health and safety of our attorneys, staff and clients while continuing to protect and serve our clients’ interests  To that end:

  • Our lawyers have the ability work remotely and continue serving our clients;
  • Staff and attorneys who may come into close contact with individuals or exhibit symptoms have been asked to stay home;
  • Courts in Mississippi and Tennessee as well as the federal courts have taken slightly different approaches to pending hearings and trials.  Details of those are below.  We are contacting clients and witnesses as needed;
  • Questions about your case or how the current situation may impact your upcoming hearing, trial or deposition should be directed to 662-234-8775 or hd@holcombdunbar.com.

Holcomb Dunbar remains hopeful that the public health measures and containment efforts will quickly quell the current situation.   In the meantime, we will continue to monitor the evolving situations.  

MISSISSIPPI STATE COURTS

The Mississippi State Court as directed all local courts to remain open for hearings and other business under the following guidelines issued by the Mississippi Supreme Court:

  • In compliance with the Constitution, all state courts – municipal, justice, county, chancery, circuit, and appellate courts – will remain open for business to ensure courts fulfill their constitutional and statutory duties. See Miss. Const. Art. 3, §§ 24, 25, 26, and 26A. Courts should continue normal business matters as much as possible. Any orders from trial courts contrary to this Order are vacated to that extent.
  • In compliance with the State Health Department, courts shall not permit aggregate gatherings of over 200 people. Courts should consider the avoidance of any proceedings that involve vulnerable persons or require witnesses or parties to travel from an infected area, increasing the chances of transmission of the disease.
  • Individual judges have discretion to control their general dockets and are authorized to instruct their clerks that jury summonses may not be sent to jurors which would be returnable to any date prior to April 13, 2020. 
  • Individual judges have the discretion to postpone any trials on their own docket scheduled through April 10, 2020.
  • Courts shall limit the number of people summoned for jury duty to the minimum amount of persons necessary.
  • Jurors who have traveled to areas with a high concentration of confirmed coronavirus cases shall contact the court before reporting for jury duty. Jurors who have been diagnosed with an illness or who are primary caregivers for a vulnerable person who has been diagnosed with an illness shall contact the court by telephone. They shall not come to the courthouse before speaking with court personnel. Jurors who disregard this Order shall be immediately released and sent home. Additionally, all attorneys and parties shall take the same precautions.
  • All court proceedings shall be limited to attorneys, parties, witnesses, security officers, members of the press, and other necessary persons, as determined by the trial judge.
  • The trial courts are hereby authorized to exercise their sound discretion in extending deadlines, rescheduling hearings and trials and any other matters by case specific actions or by general orders.
  • Each judge conducting drug intervention courts is authorized to modify the scheduling of drug testing and home-supervision visits for the next 30 days as they see fit.
  • Courts shall communicate effectively with the local bar, local officials, the public, and the state. The payment and/reimbursement of out-of-state travel is suspended for judicial employees and judges.
  • Courts are encouraged to work with those responsible for cleaning and maintaining courthouses to ensure compliance with enhanced cleaning requirements. Although not confirmed it has been reported that COVID-19 can remain in the air for up to three hours and live on surfaces such as plastic and stainless steel for up to three days, copper surfaces four hours, and cardboard for up to twenty-four hours.

Here’s a copy of the full order

TENNESSEE STATE COURTS

The Tennessee Supreme Court today issued an Order stating all Tennessee is suspending all in-person judicial proceedings through March 31, 2020. 

Chief Justice Jeff Bivins declared a state of emergency for the judicial branch, which follows Governor Bill Lee’s Executive Order and declaration of a state of emergency on March 12, 2020. The Order applies to state and local Tennessee courts, including appellate, trial, general sessions, juvenile, and municipal courts.

“Each day across the State of Tennessee, thousands of people attend court proceedings in-person when they come to the courthouse as jurors, witnesses, litigants, or in another capacity. Public spaces in courthouses tend to be small, tightly packed bench seats that provide the type of situations public health officials have encouraged people to avoid during the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Chief Justice Jeff Bivins. “However, judges, court clerks, and others provide essential constitutional functions that must be carried on. In issuing this Order, the Court struck a balance in limiting the public’s exposure to the virus with continuing essential court functions judges must provide to ensure the administration of justice.”

The Order includes a substantial list of exceptions including proceedings necessary to protect constitutional rights of criminal defendants, such as bond-related matters and plea agreements for incarcerated individuals; civil and criminal jury trials that are in progress as of March 13, 2020; proceedings relating to orders of protection; proceedings related to emergency child custody orders; Department of Children’s Services emergency matters related to child protection; proceedings related to petitions for temporary injunctive relief; proceedings related to emergency mental health orders; proceedings related to emergency protection of elderly or vulnerable persons; and proceedings directly related to the COVID-19 public health emergency. In addition, other exceptions to the suspension of in-person court proceedings may be approved by the Chief Justice. Any permitted in-court proceedings will be limited to attorneys, parties, witnesses, security officers, and necessary persons as determined by the trial judge.  

“We are reducing the number of people physically in the courthouse each day while ensuring judges and court clerks have the ability to continue with their constitutionally required duties,” Chief Justice Bivins said.

The Court’s Order includes several other provisions to help alleviate hardships or unintended consequences caused by the suspension of non-essential, in-person proceedings. For example, deadlines set forth in court rules, statutes, and administrative rules, including statutes of limitations, that are set to expire between March 13 and April 6, 2020, are extended through April 6, 2020 and orders of protection that would expire between March 13 and April 6, 2020, are extended until April 6, 2020.

“This is new territory for everyone,” Chief Bivins said. “We encourage judges, court clerks, attorneys, law enforcement, and others to work together to develop creative solutions that work for their individual jurisdictions. The goal is to limit the number of people coming into court each day while continuing to meet our duty and administer justice. We may amend this Order as the situation evolves, and we understand more about the obstacles judges and court staff are facing.”

The order expressly does not prohibit court proceedings by telephone, video, teleconferencing, email, or other means that do not involve in-person contact. The Court’s Order also suspends any Tennessee rule, criminal or civil, that limits a judge’s or clerk’s ability to utilize available technologies, including telephone conferences, video conferences, and video arraignments, that can help limit in-person contact. The Order does not affect a court’s consideration of civil or criminal matters that can be resolved without oral argument. 

Read the full Order

FEDERAL COURTS

At this point, Federal Courts in Mississippi and Tennessee remain open.  We will continue to monitor and advise clients of any changes that impact their matters.  

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Jonathan Masters

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