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Potential Jury Trials Look Different with COVID-19

San Patricio County Proceeds with Jury Selection
Posted at 7:17 PM, Feb 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-10 20:30:39-05

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The jury selection process in San Patricio County is looking a little different nowadays due to COVID-19.

The jury selection process is done at the San Patricio County Civic Center at the fairgrounds, and once the jury has been selected the trials are held at the San Patricio County Courthouse.

Potential jurors are offered a bag with a face shield, face mask, hand sanitizer, gloves, and a microphone cover when they sign in.

The precautions that San Patricio County is taking is outlined in what they call “The Plan”. Under that plan, judges have to communicate with the court if anybody involved in the trial has tested positive for COVID-19 within the past 30 days, currently feels symptoms, or has been exposed to the virus.

“Many jury trials…this is what we’re talking about today…. have to be in person. They cannot be by video or Zoom unless it’s agreed to by all the parties,” Janna Whatley, the 343rd District Court Judge said.

A judge must email the local health authority within five days before every trial to see if it is safe to have that trial.
Heather Marks is the San Patricio County district clerk, and came up with an automated system that allows the court to pre-qualify the jurors before they report for jury duty which they can do online or on paper.

“That enables us to communicate better with the juror and that has helped us to really communicate our new policies and procedures,” Marks said.

But is there an abundance of jurors because people might be out of work due to the pandemic? Whatley says that many of the potential jurors are working.

“They feel that because they’re out working…their children are in school…they’re educators themselves…they’re reporting in person that we need to have jury trials. They’re the ones that have influenced us to continue on having in person trials,” Whatley said.

The county is also taking precautions by requiring face masks, using microphone covers, and allowing more than six feet between potential jurors.

San Patricio County is currently only having in person-trials with juries until April. Other kinds of trials that don’t require a jury are done virtually.

The Corpus Christi Health District advised the Nueces County courthouse not to have any in-person jury trials or selections.