WICHITA COUNTY (KFDX/KJTL) — The Texas Supreme Court has had an emergency order in place since March that allows courts to avoid in-person court proceedings because of COVID.
With that order expiring next week, some county officials expect in-person jury trials to resume once again.
“I think we will be able to have a jury trial in early June and I think that would be the start of a lot of jury trials,” 89th District Judge Charles Barnard said.
On June 1, the Texas Supreme Court’s emergency order that limits in-person jury trials is set to expire. Barnard believes that in-person jury trials could come back to the courtroom.
“We would anticipate the next four years that we will try a number of jury trials maybe two cases in one week if necessary,” Barnard said.
As Barnard begins planning for jury trials, he assumes that COVID will be a factor in selecting jurors.
“We would anticipate that we’re going to have a fairly difficult time with panel members and not wanting to serve because of COVID,” Barnard said.
As Barnard hopes for trials to resume, Wichita County Commissioners change their order so that masks don’t have to be worn on the first floor of the courthouse but masks must be worn on the floors above that.
Masks must also be worn in justice of the peace precinct offices if people enter through the courtside of the building.
“J.P. 2, if you’re going in the tax side, they’re separated, you don’t have to have a mask but you do have to have a mask if you’re on the courtside. If you’re in J.P. 3, it’s a separate portion of the building, they’re not connected so that’s the only part. J.P. 4, you go through the same entrance so you need to wear your mask in there,” Wichita County Judge Woody Gossom said.
As county commissioners juggle guidance from Governor Greg Abbott, the texas supreme court, and the office of court administration, Gossom just wants more local control.
“June 1 is only a few days away and I would hope the Supreme Court would come back and say ‘we’re not making those requirements anymore’ but I don’t know. It’d have been nice if the governor had talked to the chief justice. But why do that,” Gossom said.
As the state of Texas limits masks, county officials hope for more local control and in-person jury trials.
The office of court administration released an update last week stating a new supreme court order is expected in the coming days.