Just one at a time, they will use two large courtrooms
WHATCOM — County Superior Court will resume 12-person jury trials beginning March 15, 2021, after suspending them in April 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Extensive new safety precautions have been implemented to protect juror safety and public health as trials resume, according to a press release from Judge Robert E. Olson.
Jury summonses were sent out last week, with first potential trials planned for the third week of March.
“The suspension of jury trials was needed to protect the public and court staff, and it gave us the opportunity to redesign our jury processes with the input of public health experts, trial participants and other stakeholders,” Olson said. “Now it is critical that we restart jury trials, which are key to the fair administration of justice.”
This will be the process:
• One trial at a time will be permitted to proceed in Whatcom County Superior Court. A jury panel will be summoned and individuals who meet certain risk criteria will be offered a deferral of jury service consistent with guidance from the Washington State Supreme Court. Potential jurors will be informed that if they are experiencing COVID-19-related symptoms or other health concerns, they are not to appear for jury service. Prospective jurors will be temperature-checked upon arrival, and they must affirm they satisfy the health requirements for service.
• Jury selection will take place in the Whatcom County Council chambers in groups no larger than 25 people. All prospective jurors will be instructed on social distancing and required to wear face masks throughout the selection process. Potential jurors will be separated to ensure safe distancing.
• Once a jury is selected, trials will be conducted using both of the large courtrooms (Departments 1 and 3) on the third floor of the Whatcom County Courthouse. Jurors will be temperature-checked each morning and will submit to a medical self-screening. Jurors will be instructed to report immediately any symptoms of ill health or other safety concerns. Face masks will be required of all participants — judges, attorneys, defendants, jurors, witnesses and the public. Jurors will be properly distanced in the main courtroom gallery during testimony and when on breaks or in deliberations. The court is unable to offer food, drink, or reading materials during trial, so jurors are encouraged to bring their own if desired.
Trials will generally take place Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., at the direction of the assigned trial judge.
“The health and safety of those required for jury service is our primary concern. We believe the processes now in place will ensure this safety, while still recognizing the essential civic function that jury trials provide,” Olson said.
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