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Plexiglass, Zoom, microphones and separate rooms: The plan to resume jury trials
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Renovations to a former Magistrate Court are now complete Thursday, June 28, 2019, for Judge Clint Bearden to occupy. Upgrades to the room include new carpeting and more technology. - photo by Scott Rogers

A plexiglass shield around the witness stand, Zoom calls between judges’ offices and jurors and a jury trial with the audience watching a closed-circuit stream in another room.  

These are some of the measures the Hall County court stakeholders are thinking about trying to safely resume jury trials and grand jury sessions amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Chief Superior Court Judge will also have the emergency powers to designate the Gainesville Municipal Court as an alternate court facility for grand jury sessions. 

Court administrator Jason Stephenson cautioned Friday, Sept. 25, that the measures are drafts and “will look different before being approved hopefully next week.” 

Gosselin previously made the Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center an alternate facility, though that order has since expired. 

“The city has agreed to make that courtroom available to us, and during a judicial emergency, Judge Gosselin can designate an alternate location. … But that judicial emergency will expire,” Stephenson said. 

The Hall County Sheriff’s Office will provide security, Stephenson said. To continue to use that court, court officials will have to approach Hall County commissioners about designating the space as an alternate court facility.  

A meeting is set for next week to finalize this plan. 

“Going forward in 2021, we’ll need a county resolution that approves that,” Stephenson said. 

For the courtroom layout in the main Hall County courthouse, 13 jurors will be in the courtroom gallery and the witness will be in the corner of the jury box. 

“Attorneys will be asked to wear wireless lavalier mics so that everyone in the courtroom is better able to hear the proceedings,” according to the draft plan. 

A closed-circuit video stream will be set up so that members of the public can view the trial in another room. 

“A plexiglass shield will be installed at the witness stand to ensure the witness may testify without a mask,” according to the draft plan. “Should this shield cause a glare, it will be removed and the witness will wear a face shield instead.” 

Prospective jurors and grand jurors will receive a summons and a modified excusal affidavit that “temporarily waives the requirement of having notarized before submitting,” according to the draft plan. 

There will also be a letter, insert and questionnaire concerning COVID-19 which will detail the contacts if a prospective juror has health-related questions, the health and safety plan for the courts and a series of questions to determine if they are “medically fragile” as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The jury division will vet the deferral request before passing it off to the assigned judge’s office. 

“The assigned judge’s office will contact the prospective juror and set up either a phone or Zoom call with the judge,” according to the draft plan. “After the Zoom or phone call, the judge will decide whether to grant the deferral or excusal and alert the jury division of the decision.” 

The courts want to stagger the reporting times to limit the number of prospective jurors in one room at a time. Only two people will be allowed in an elevator at a time.