Administrative Office of Courts
Courts of Harrison, Hancock and Stone counties announce plans for conducting court business after Hurricane Katrina
Circuit Judges in the Second Circuit Court District of Harrison, Hancock and Stone counties have cancelled trials and hearings and extended filing deadlines as a result of damage from Hurricane Katrina.
A Circuit Court order filed Monday, Sept. 12, with the Mississippi Supreme Court noted that all motions, trials and hearings previously scheduled between Aug. 29 and Oct. 31 shall be rescheduled as soon as is practical.
Deadlines in Circuit Court are suspended until Oct. 31 or until further order of the Circuit Court for filing motions, complying with litigation discovery, and filing appeals from County Court and administrative agencies.
The circuit judges noted that the extensions do not apply to statutes of limitations.
The Circuit Court order states, “On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the Mississippi Gulf Coast and surrounding areas, resulting in unprecedented damage, destruction and loss of life. The Circuit Courts, offices and supporting agencies are at the present, incapable of performing normally, thus requiring an emergency general order to prevent injustice and to protect the fairness and integrity of the trial courts, members of the bar, litigants, and the general public.”
The order was signed by Second District Senior Circuit Court Judge Kosta N. Vlahos and Circuit Judges Jerry O. Terry, Stephen B. Simpson and Roger T. Clark.
Harrison County Circuit Court judges are available to reschedule bench trials and hearings. “Except for jury trials, we are available and open for business,” said Judge Vlahos.
Circuit judges in Harrison County plan to be in full operation by Monday, Sept. 19, Judge Vlahos said.
Circuit judges are unable to conduct jury trials in Harrison and Hancock counties. The hurricane cause such severe damage to homes and businesses and displaced so many people that judges don’t believe there are enough people available for jury service, said Judges Vlahos and Simpson.
“The judges realize it is going to be many months before we can call jurors,” Judge Vlahos said.
Also, court staff, many of whose homes were damaged, need time to deal with personal matters.
Circuit and Chancery Court administrators in Harrison County are staffing their offices in Gulfport 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. this week.
Circuit Court Administrator numbers for criminal matters are 228-865-4220 and 228-865-4104, and for civil cases, 228-865-4006.
Lawyers needing to reschedule matters in Chancery Court may contact the Chancery Court Administrator at 228-865-4008. People who have emergency matters in Chancery Court this week should contact a Chancery Court Administrator, who will get in contact with a judge.
Chancery judges of the 8th Chancery District of Hancock, Harrison and Stone counties this week have at least one judge available at the Gulfport Courthouse to handle any matter, said Chancellor Jim Persons. The chancellor who is available would handle any urgent matter, no matter to which judge the case was originally assigned.
The Chancery Court in Harrison County is expected to return to a regular business schedule at the Gulfport Courthouse starting Monday, Sept. 19.
Chancellor Sandy Steckler said, “We are aware there are many emergency type procedures or matters of urgency that need to be dealt with. We are open for business. All we have to do is find a location.”
Circuit and Chancery Court judges said court administrators will make arrangements for the locations for conducting court hearings. Some matters from Harrison and Hancock counties may be heard at the Stone County Courthouse in Wiggins. The Stone County Courthouse is not seriously damaged.
The Harrison County Courthouse in Gulfport had minor water damage, but court operations there cannot fully function because the building is being used as a base of operations for the Hurricane Katrina emergency relief efforts. The Harrison County Courthouse in Biloxi has not yet reopened.
The Hancock County Courthouse in Bay St. Louis is closed. The building suffered extensive roof damage and it flooded. Court officials there are working to set up a satellite facility in a public building in the Kiln, but that facility has not opened.
The Harrison County Circuit Court Clerk’s office in Gulfport has reopened for business, accepting litigation filings, issuing marriage licenses, accepting voter registration and all other functions, said Circuit Clerk Gayle Parker. The Circuit Clerk’s office also accepts filings for County Court.
The Harrison County Chancery Court Clerk’s office in Gulfport is expected to be fully functioning by Monday, Sept. 19, said Deputy Chancery Clerk Janice Daams. Emergency Chancery Court matters which need to be filed this week may be accepted by a chancery judge and will be treated as filed, said Judge Persons.
The Harrison County Justice Court offices are closed until further notice, said Justice Court Judge Bruce Roberts. Justice Court judges are handling initial appearances at jail facilities and other emergency matters as needed. However, the Biloxi courtroom is damaged and access at the Gulfport facility is limited by the emergency relief efforts, Judge Roberts said. The Justice Court offices are not able to be open to accept civil filings, Judge Roberts said.
Procedural orders from the trial courts and the Supreme Court in matters related to Hurricane Katrina are posted on the News page of the web site of the Mississippi Supreme Court at www.mssc.state.ms.us.