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Coronavirus In Minnesota: Uncertainty About Jury Trials Lingers Due To COVID-19

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Minnesota courts have seen most cases put on hold until at least June.

And there's concern from attorneys and potential jurors as to what courtrooms might look like when they re-open.

Right now, some court hearings are happening virtually, but that won't be an option when jury trials resume.

"The problem is no one knows what will happen after the stay-at-home order is lifted," said attorney Joe Tamburino.

Tamburino worries that judicial districts and counties across the state aren't on the same page.

His concerns center around social distancing in a building like the Hennepin County Government Center. He calls them simple things that are no longer simple such as- how many people can be in the building at one time going forward? And how many people can be in an elevator together?

"Think about this- you have 20,000 potential jurors coming in and out of that building," said Tamburino. "All these jurors- are they going to wear masks? Who is going to provide them the masks? How are we going to social distance the jurors when we are in a trial?"

On Friday last week, Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea issued a new order that virtual hearings will continue and in-person restrictions will remain in place through May 18. Jury trials also won't resume until at least June 1st. In the meantime, they are working with state health officials and others to develop a plan to re-open. When that happens, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman thinks only the 4 largest courtrooms in the government center will have trials.

"Which will enable jurors to be seated perhaps in the spectator's section with more distancing," said Freeman.

And Freeman believes that initially, only about 10% to 15% of necessary court personnel will return.

"Minnesotans are good people and they care about the juror's safety. So we are working on that and it's taking a little while to plan for it," said Freeman.

Freeman said there will be a case backlog, but not as much as initially thought because some cases have been settled during the Stay at Home Order and others will be tried in court without a jury.


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