Calhoun County Courts haven’t been able to seat a jury since last March, and there won’t be jury trials for the remainder of 2020, due to high COVID-19 levels in the county.

Chief Judge Michael L. Jaconette says they made the decision after consultations with Calhoun County Public Health Officer Eric Pessell and the State Court Administrative Office (SCAO) in Lansing.

A recent directive from the SCAO mandated that courts cannot conduct jury trials unless their county’s public health data shows 70 or less positive cases of COVID -19 per million per day.  A County spokesperson said Calhoun is currently at 925.  The Judicial Council decided that meeting the threshold is very unlikely to occur locally in the near future.  Judge Jaconette said they hope to be able to call jury panels beginning on January 19, 2021.  That’s the start of the second scheduled term for jury service in 2021.

Bench trials, where the judge decides the case, are continuing to be held if both sides waive the right to a jury trial.  A spokesman said those proceedings are happening on Zoom and streamed to YouTube.

Judge Jaconette said part of the problem with the jury trials is the court building, which was built in 1994 and not designed with social distancing in mind.  He said one challenge is not enough space in the courtrooms to keep jurors six feet apart.  Another challenge is the very small jury deliberation rooms.   Two small rooms were located between two courtrooms, but they’ve knocked out a wall to make one larger room between the courtrooms.  He said they want to do everything possible to be able to safely seat juries, once the number of positive COVID-19 cases dips below the threshold.

In the meantime, he said the Calhoun County judiciary and staff members are working diligently to ensure that cases will be processed as safely and efficiently as possible under the current public health conditions and in keeping with the administrative parameters set forth by the Michigan Supreme Court through SCAO.

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