The Judge made remarks regarding Harrison County Legal System and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. His first remarks focused on courtrooms. After the pandemic hit the courtrooms were closed. He said that the guidelines that he has to follow come from the Texas Supreme Court. Over the past couple of months the Texas State Judges have been working with the Supreme Court to push past the pandemic and get the courts open.
During the period of closed courts the State Courts were able to using, ZOOM technology to get some work accomplished. He made a point to say “there is no substitute for having people standing in your court and be able to observe their body language and demeanor during the proceeding.”
Judge Black is looking at April 1 to open his court. Going to the courthouse people will be allowed to wear a mask or not, but if you are going into a court room guidelines will be strictly enforced. Entering the court room you will have your temperature taken, you must wear a mask and social distant. His court room will be limited to 36 people. In all cases you have the Prosecution, Defense, and in most cases the jury which take up a lot of the space.
In the more high profile cases the court may have to postpone due to the large number of people involve and the limited space available to the court. Over the past couple of months people have been called to the court for various reasons, as they were leaving the courthouse they have been asking if they felt safe, did they have any concerns or comments.
Judge Black was pleased to tell the Lions Club that in majority of the cases the response was they did feel safe and they appreciated the courts and the courthouse staff efforts to protect and serve the citizens of Harrison County. Judge Black also stated that there are procedures in place for those who have been called to court and cannot attend due to legitimate health concerns.
He made a point to give credit and thanks to the Harrison County Sheriff and Marshall Police Departments for their work to maintain and protect the jails. By using isolation procedures and strict monitoring the city’s law enforcement personnel, jail staff and the prisoners were protected and well cared for. He recalled that over the past year, the two jails reported only five cases of positive tests results.
Judge Black was asked if there has been an increase in domestic and juvenile violence here in Harrison County. The Judge was happy to say “No, we have had a decrease in those types of case.” He did go on to say that as the state opens up we could see and increase. He goes on to say that even though the courts have been closed, the justice system remained open. Each day new cases are being filed in the courts.
He also spoke about the impact on our prisoner population. He asked the Lions Club, “can you imagine being locked up for 3, 6, 9 months and you are about have your day in court and the pandemic hit. Those prisoners have had a year add on to their jail time.”
He then focused on how the court system recovers and spoke about visiting judges system Texas has to help with the overloaded courts. Judge Black mentioned that the State Court System wanted to cut the visiting judges budget by two million dollars, but after discussions with the county judges they were projecting to ask for an increase of 10-12 million dollars. He goes on to say, each county is different, has different needs and you cannot expect everyone to do the same thing. Our needs in Harrison County differ from every other county court.
In closing, Judge Black stated he was infected early in the pandemic and was blessed that he recovered after feeling bad for a few days. He talked about how his brother who was in ICU for four weeks, that he was in the last few days released to return to work.
“I know that people are going to use the pandemic to get out of court; look at me I have the top three reasons for not being exposed to Covid-19, so my advice to you is to come to court. If you get summoned to court you need to attend, you don’t want the court to have to come pick you up,” he said.
In his final comment he said, “We have all had to endure this pandemic, some more than others. We have been told what we can and cannot do. I don’t know about you but I don’t like it; I understand the reasons but I just don’t.”
Lion Vice-President Stacy Bowen presented Judge Black a writing pen. Lions welcomed Shana and Brad McCann as prospective new members. Lions also sang Happy Birthday to Lion Sheriff B.J. Fletcher. The meeting was adjourned at 12:58 p.m. with prayer by Lion Paul Martin.