Douglas County District Court to resume jury trials in April

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

The Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, which houses Douglas County District Court and a number of other criminal justice services at 111 E. 11th St., is pictured April 8, 2020.

Douglas County District Court plans to resume jury trials next month, the court announced in a news release Thursday.

Chief District Court Judge James McCabria said in the announcement that the trials would proceed with special precautions to ensure safety from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic in courtrooms at the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, 111 E. 11th St., and using two locations at the Douglas County Fairgrounds, 2120 Harper St. The two fairground locations are Building 21 and the Flory Meeting Hall.

McCabria also noted that the resumption of jury trials would help the court begin working on a backlog of cases that have piled up during the pandemic.

“We have people who have been at the county jail waiting for their day in court,” McCabria said in the news release. “The challenge has been safety versus justice. Now, we believe we can safely administer justice and it is important that we resume that function.”

Since the pandemic emerged in March 2020, the court has had limited public attendance, with many proceedings being conducted online.

As the Journal-World previously reported, trials were set to resume on Jan. 11, using the Flory Meeting Hall at the fairgrounds to provide adequate space for social distancing, among other precautions. But McCabria noted on Thursday that he then postponed “entire blocks” of jury trials during the first three months of the year because of the pandemic.

However, the number of virus cases in Douglas County and in Kansas has continued to fall, and the court will now allow for the controlled gathering of county residents for trials.

The fairgrounds locations the court will use allow for the screening of up to 30 jurors at a time while still providing space for social distancing, according to the news release. Along with social distancing, the court has other safety precautions, including mask requirements, frequent cleaning of the facilities and temperature screenings at entrances.

The court will continue to limit the number of people who may attend and will allow some public attendance on a first-come, first-served basis.

While the county still has public health orders in place to prevent large gatherings, Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health officials said that jury trials are controlled situations, according to the news release.

“We believe anyone who participates in the process should feel safe with the distancing and other protocols that are in place,” said George Diepenbrock, a spokesman for the health department.


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