With a few more logistical problems and audibles than normal, the Hall County courts held its first day of trials Wednesday, March 10, almost a year since the shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Court administrator Jason Stephenson said 59 of the 180 jurors summoned were deferred or excused prior to the day’s trial, though he was unsure how many were for COVID-related concerns.
Superior Court Judge Bonnie Oliver presided over the first case, which concerned drug possession.
Some 80 to 90 jurors reported for duty, which Stephenson said was better than a normal turnout.
Stephenson said they were able to bring in the panel of jurors and use social distance across three rooms.
“That, going forward, won’t be possible because of the limitations of courtroom space, but for this first one, we reserved the whole first floor and made it possible to bring all of them at once at 8:30 this morning,” he said.
The new COVID safety protocols for the trial included moving the jury out of the jury box and into the gallery sitting 6 feet apart. Plexiglass now surrounds the jury box so that a witness can testify from there without wearing a mask.
A livestream of the trial was shown on a large screen in the grand jury room on the courthouse’s third floor, which was intended for press and others wishing to watch the trial.
When the trial began with the attorneys’ opening statements around 4 p.m. Wednesday, the only people in attendance in the trial viewing room were two representatives from The Times and a Hall County Sheriff’s Office deputy.
It was difficult to hear the attorneys at times when they were not aided by a microphone.
Because of the social distancing guidelines, attorneys were only able to question 20 jurors at a time instead of 40 at once.
“The most notable difference was the wearing of masks,” Stephenson said. “Face coverings after a few minutes, let alone a few hours, can become uncomfortable, but the jurors were incredibly cooperative and many very appreciative of the steps taken to protect health and safety.”