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TEXARKANA, Texas — Misdemeanor and felony jail dockets in Bowie County are being conducted via video conferencing to maintain social distancing and limit the spread of COVID-19.

Bowie County Court at Law Judge Craig Henry livestreamed his criminal jail docket last week on Facebook using Zoom software but said he intends to use Zoom and a YouTube platform later this week in a civil docket.

"The courts go on," Henry said, noting that orders from the Texas Supreme Court include instructions for judges on how to use Zoom and set up YouTube channels for each court. The hearings cannot be recorded and disseminated.

Fifth District Judge Bill Miller, who serves Bowie and Cass Counties, heard multiple cases Monday at the Bi-State Justice Building in downtown Texarkana. The hearings were conducted using Zoom and livestreamed via the court's YouTube channel.

"So much for bench conferences," Miller mused during one hearing.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys routinely approach the bench to discuss details or sensitive matters more privately during pretrial hearings. The parties must now remember to "mute" themselves in such circumstances as the courts make the transition to closed but public courtrooms.

In Miller's court Monday inmates appeared via video from a room in the jail. The judge, a small number of court staff, Assistant District Attorney Katie Carter and defense lawyers occupied a first-floor courtroom in the Bi-State Justice Building. Once the cases being represented by Bowie County Public Defender's Office were heard, Miller began hearing cases with defendants represented by private attorneys and Assistant Public Defender Sylvia Delgado left the courtroom.

Bowie County's other two district judges, John Tidwell and Jeff Addison, have created YouTube channels as well and are expected to conduct their courts via Zoom until the threat of the pandemic subsides.

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