Courthouses and court staff are continuously finding creative solutions to provide services while maintaining compliance with public health orders.
Maricopa County, the largest county in the State of Arizona, will extend suspension of civil jury trials through February 28, 2021, because of rising COVID-19 numbers. Superior Court Presiding Judge Joseph Welty issued the order in response to the public health emergency, noting, “We have a constitutional obligation to timely address matters before our court that must be balanced with our ability to safely prevent the continued spread of COVID-19.”
Growing concerns around protecting potential jurors prompted the extension. Social distancing guidelines have created the logistical challenge of where courts can safely allow potential jurors to check in and wait. The jury assembly room at Maricopa County Superior Court has significantly reduced its capacity from 811 to 30 because of social distancing guidelines.
Maricopa County Superior Court is making efforts to prepare for the return of jury trials. Court officials say they have developed a plan to balance individuals’ right to a trial and a jury of their peers with efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19. It includes requiring anyone who enters the courthouse to wear a mask and limiting the number of people allowed in each courtroom. People may only attend an in-person hearing at the Maricopa Superior Court if they are 1) permitted by the judge, or 2) are a party, victim, lawyer assigned to the case, witness in the case, or a juror. Members of the public may listen to proceedings by phone.
Additional policies and procedures include the following. Buses transporting jurors from the parking garage to court will only accommodate 14 people per trip. The court is encouraging potential jurors to check in with their phones. Social distancing will be maintained in each courtroom. The courtrooms have signs in the gallery alerting where people can sit. Some jurors may need to sit in the gallery. Jury deliberation rooms are not able to meet social distancing requirements due to their size; therefore, some juries will be utilizing unused courtrooms for deliberations. The court is eliminating “shared touch spaces” as much as possible by allowing potential jurors to keep the pencils they use, having people request forms instead of leaving them out in a pile, and taking certain items out of the cafeteria area.
Additionally, last year, the court created a “jury bot” to answer questions about serving on a jury. Jurors can ask the bot questions like, “What attire is allowed when serving on a jury?” If potential jurors have questions about the coronavirus, they can ask to speak to a live agent, and the bot will transfer them to someone in the jury administration office who can help.
The court will continue to follow the advice and recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.