Submitted by San Juan County Courts
The San Juan County Superior Court and District Court are once again resuming jury trials, after postponing trials in November of 2020 due to a surge in COVID-19 cases. Thanks to transmission rates falling regionally and statewide, and technological and physical updates to the courtrooms to improve safety measures, both courts are ready for jury trials to resume and are sending out jury summonses.
On March 18, 2020, the Washington State Supreme Court suspended all civil and criminal jury trials as a result of COVID-19. Trial courts were permitted to resume jury trials in July of 2020, and since then, each jurisdiction has had to determine when it is safe to hold trials based on local conditions. Because jury trials are a cornerstone of our democracy and a constitutional right, courts across the state have been working to hold trials throughout the pandemic, with pauses and postponements when local health guidance suggests it is unsafe to proceed.
In San Juan County, trials were postponed in November as the region, and San Juan County experienced holiday surges in transmission rates. Local COVID-19 public health guidance supported postponing jury trials through February 2021. However, that guidance now indicates that it is safe to resume jury trials—with substantial health and safety protocols in place.
The courts are also working on making it easier for the public to watch trials remotely so that fewer people would need to come into the courtroom physically to watch the proceeding.
“We have worked with our local health officials to determine when to start jury trials again,” said District Court Judge Carolyn Jewett. “We know that conditions could change quickly, especially with new coronavirus variants spreading in Washington, and we’re watching the numbers closely. But with changes to our facilities, social distancing precautions, and smaller groups of jurors, we feel confident in our safety measures. When you combine that with lower transmission rates, the time is right to bring jurors back to the courthouse.”
Both courts are therefore sending out jury summons. Courts must send out summons to potential jurors several weeks before a potential trial date. Jurors must respond to the summons and turn in their response to the court within a week of receiving the summons. This lets the court and parties know how many potential jurors will actually show up to the courthouse on the day of the trial.
“We know many members of our community have not yet been vaccinated, so our jury trial plan is designed to protect everyone in the courtroom,” said Superior Court Judge Kathryn Loring. “However, we also know some individuals are at a higher risk of complications of COVID-19 without a vaccine. If you fall into one of these high-risk categories, you can request your service to be rescheduled up to 4 months later. This process will be explained in a letter with your summons.”
Jury service is a vital civic duty, and the jurors are an integral part of the process. If you have any questions, the courts want to know what your concerns are so we can make the process as safe as possible. You can send your questions to email@example.com, or call the Jury Information Hotline at 360-378-9407.