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Judges seek public’s help in keeping courts open

The Mississippi Judiciary is collaborating with the Mississippi State Department of Health in a public health and safety awareness campaign regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thirteen trial and appellate judges from across the state spoke in videotaped testimonials about their efforts to keep the courts open while protecting public health. Each said they received the vaccine.

The testimonials will air in each judge’s local area on television and radio. Production and air time were paid for by the Department of Health.

Judges who gave testimonials include Court of Appeals Judge Anthony N. Lawrence III of Pascagoula, Court of Appeals Judge Deborah McDonald of Fayette, Chancellor Vincent Davis of Fayette, Justice Dawn Beam of Sumrall, Justice Robert P. Chamberlin of Hernando, Chancellor Tiffany Grove of Raymond, Chancellor Joseph Kilgore of Philadelphia, Chancellor Jacqueline Mask of Tupelo, Chancellor Bennie L. Richard of Greenville, Circuit Judge Kelly Luther of Ripley, Circuit Judge Stanley Sorey of Raleigh, Chancellor Charles E. Smith of Meridian and Hinds County Court Judge Carlyn Hicks of Jackson.

Chief Justice Mike Randolph  said that all courts have a constitutional and statutory responsibility to remain open. The Chief Justice  reimplemented safety guidelines for all state courts on Aug. 5. Chief Justice Randolph asked for cooperation from the public to keep courts open and protect court officials, staff and those who have business there.

“We need the public’s help so we can safely do our jobs. We need the public’s help to protect our court system,” Chief Justice Randolph said.

Chief Justice Randolph noted that many people who go to court don’t have the same choices that they would enjoy with regard to making a decision to go shopping.  “We compel people to come to court.”

Liz Sharlot, Director of Communications for the Mississippi State Department of Health, said, “We are  incredibly grateful for the opportunity to work with such fine individuals who were willing to give their time to produce these radio and TV spots. When Chief Justice Randolph approached me with the idea, I welcomed the unique opportunity to further reach out to Mississippians. The end product is exactly what we envisioned and will hopefully encourage others to get vaccinated.”

Everyone knew someone who died of COVID.

Judge Lawrence recalled the Aug. 12 death of George County Deputy Sheriff Bobby Daffin. Lawrence, a former district attorney, had worked with Daffin.

Judge Lawrence said of his family’s decision to receive the vaccine, “We decided to get the vaccine to protect ourselves, our friends and the community in which we live.”

Chancellor Vincent Davis recalled elected officials and classmates who died of COVID. “When I think about those kinds of things, it’s incumbent on all of us to do all we can for everybody else.”

Judges shared their experiences. Some were personal, and painful.

Circuit Judge Stanley Sorey said that COVID claimed the lives of his wife, his sister-in-law and a friend and fellow judge. “Last October, I lost my wife of 27 years to COVID. This was before the vaccine was available.”

Lynn Sorey went by ambulance to a hospital on Labor Day 2020. She died Oct. 8. Her sister, Lisa Headrick of Raleigh, died Sept. 12, 2020, of COVID. Circuit Judge Eddie H. Bowen of Raleigh died Feb. 7 of complications from COVID.

Court of Appeals Judge Deborah McDonald said, “I am a COVID survivor. I had COVID last year in June, and I quarantined in my house alone for 17 days. Thank God I didn’t have to be hospitalized.”

The courts must remain open despite the pandemic.

Judge  Davis said, “When there is a problem, people need to have the protection of the courts. If the court is not there, the rights are going to be settled somehow in the streets….This is a very stressful time for everyone. COVID is scary.”

Judge McDonald said, “It is very important that everyone gets his day in court. Our mission is to keep the courts open and to do it in a safe manner.”