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Jury Trials To Resume In October, Allegheny Co. Shuffling Spaces To Avoid Close Proximity

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - Jury trials will be resuming on Oct. 19, and some of them will be taking place in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

They say that justice delayed is justice denied, and for the past six months, families of victims and defendants who would like jury to decide their fate have had to wait for their day in court.

But Tuesday, Kim Berkeley Clark, the president Judge of Allegheny County courts, issued an order moving ahead with jury trials and a plan to hold in-person court proceedings while keeping all participants safe from coronavirus.

Jury selection and civil jury trials will be held in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center's lofty show rooms. The convention center has been secured for jury selection through Dec. 2020.

There's a $628,000 contract with the Sports and Exhibition Authority that will be covered with CARES Act funds.

As in the courthouse, the county sheriff's office will provide security for the civil proceedings, but nixed the idea of holding criminal trials there.

"It was not a good idea to have those trials down there. There's too many escape routes. It was too large. We would have difficulties moving prisoners in and out," Sheriff William Mullen said.

High profile trials like that of Christian Bey, who is charged with criminal homicide in the death of Pittsburgh police officer Calvin Hall, will require a much higher degree of security.

Criminal trials will be held in the Gold Room and courtroom 313 in the Allegheny County Courthouse and in courtroom 700 in the City-County Building. With the approval of the sheriff and administrative judge, some criminal jury trials and minor matters might take place in the convention center.

The courts believe the rooms and similar space in the City-County Building are large enough to provide jurors social distancing and contained enough for the sheriff to provide adequate security.

Safety measures will include security screening, temperature checks, screening questions, physical distancing, face coverings and hand sanitizer stations.

"The right to a trial by jury is one of the fundamental rights of U.S. citizenship, but due to the pandemic, there has not been a jury trial held in Allegheny County for the last six months," said President Judge Kim Berkeley Clark in a statement.

"During this time, defendants who are being held in jail, as well as victims and their families, have been waiting for a just resolution of their cases. We must begin to bring resolution and closure to these cases in the safest manner possible."

In a statement, District Attorney Stephen Zappala said, "The citizens of our county are the foundation of our system of justice. If the courts want to re-introduce the public to the courthouse, then there has to be complete agreement on how to maintain safety for all. My number one priority remains the safety of the general public and safety of the employees who occupy all of the floors and offices of this courthouse. The updated order appears at first glance to sufficiently address my concerns but it is a work in progress and I expect there to be adjustments as necessary."

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