SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Thousands of San Diego County jury trials are on-hold because of the pandemic. Local court officials have requested another extension from the Judicial Council of California for jury trials to be postponed through mid-September.
On Monday, ABC10 News spoke to San Diego Superior Court Presiding Judge Lorna Alksne about the challenges of returning to jury trials. “We’re at 25-hundred jury trials that need to be tried,” she told us.
Trials were halted on March 17th. Non-jury trials are currently in progress through a remote virtual process. “What we can't do right now is bring a jury into the courthouse. When you can't even go to a restaurant to eat, the idea of bringing hundreds of people in to sit in a room together is not recommended,” she told ABC10 News.
Courtrooms are being retrofitted with plexiglass barriers to protect everyone from jurors to defendants to court staff. Judge Alksne said other safety measures like social distancing will also be implemented, when appropriate.
“Once you do resume the process of summoning jurors, what if they just don't feel comfortable? They fear the risk?” we asked. “Jury service is a duty that we hold in high regard. We can't have criminal justice service work without jurors so I would hope that by the time we actually pull jurors in and ask them to come down that unless they have a health condition that would make it unsafe here, that they would be willing to serve,” she responded.
The court is still working through other complex issues like the possible need for more alternate jurors. “In other jurisdictions where they have tried to start jury trials up and down the State of California, one juror getting COVID-19 or having symptoms will send everyone home and you'll have a mistrial,” she added.
Judge Alksne also said there are currently about 300 violent felony defendants in custody who are waiting to be tried.