The Tacoma News Tribune has reported that Officials in Pierce County are currently investigating how to implement social distancing during the many jury trials that take place in the County’s courtrooms. The State Supreme Court has postponed all jury trials until July as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Maintaining social distancing when court resumes could prove to be a challenge. Officials have even considered off-site locations for jury selection, including the nearby Armory building, the Greater Tacoma Convention Center, and the former Kmart building in central Tacoma. Currently, there are about 1,500 criminal trials and 500 civil trials pending. The County-City Building can typically handle 12 trials at a time. With social distancing in place, that number may drop as low as 5.
Safety is a top priority in implementing any social distancing plan. Any new location would need metal detectors and other screening measures to allow entry. The County will be looking at the overall physical security of the buildings, the security of each converted courtroom, and the security of all entrances and exits. Additionally, there have been discussions of testing and screening jurors for the virus, and also requiring that everyone where a mask.
In order to comply with the public’s right to access courtrooms, the County is looking at broadcasting trials online or creating a viewing room at the courthouse, so that the public can watch proceedings and still socially distance.
Regardless of the trajectory of the virus, the County has a huge task in front of it to ensure that court personnel and jurors remain safe in the future. As Presiding Judge Garold Johnson said this week, “We have to have our jurors safe. They are absolutely essential to justice.”
At Horwath Law, we continue to stay up to date on any developments related to court operations during the current health crisis – client safety is our top priority.