Potential jurors will be back in the Palm Beach County Courthouse starting Oct. 14 after a hiatus of more than six months due to the coronavirus.
| Palm Beach Post
WEST PALM BEACH — For the first time since March, potential jurors will be back in the Palm Beach County Courthouse on Oct. 14, Chief Judge Krista Marx announced Monday.
Jury trials have been on hold since March 16 in an effort to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed more than a million people worldwide and nearly 1,400 in Palm Beach County alone as of Tuesday.
Now, as things across the county and the country begin to reopen, such as restaurants, bars and gyms, the courthouse will continue on its schedule, resuming jury duty.
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According to Monday’s release, jury selection will take place on Oct. 14, Oct. 27, Nov. 4 and Nov. 17. Debra Oats, the public information officer for the 15th Judicial Circuit, said 400 summons for jury service were sent out for Oct. 14.
In September, courts moved into “Phase 2” of their transition to reopening. It allowed more types of in-person hearings and for jury trials to resume, following certain benchmarks set forth by the Florida Supreme Court. The courthouse reopening phases are different from the county reopening phases. Palm Beach County is in “Phase 3” which was approved by Gov. Ron DeSantis in late September.
Broward County courts announced Monday they would move into Phase 2 next week, meaning they may be able to start jury selection in November if there are no positive cases within the courthouse, as ordered by the high court.
When Marx spoke with The Palm Beach Post in September, she said the courts would take a “measured approach” in returning to jury trials, starting with shorter and “less complicated” cases and avoiding homicides or similar cases at first.
“Rather than me opening the floodgates to all 54 judges and say, ‘OK, start your engines!’ I’m going to have two circuit criminal judges pick three or four cases,” she said.
Marx said those judges are working with the attorneys to pick and choose what cases might fit those parameters for their first time back. As of Tuesday, it was still unclear what cases will go to trial.
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In addition to the required masks and temperature checks by which all people entering the courthouse must abide, extra precautions are taken once in courtrooms and jury-deliberation rooms.
“The number one priority is keeping everyone safe,” Marx said in September.
Potential jurors will enter a security door separate from the public and will be provided with personal protective equipment.
In a video on the circuit’s website, Marx tells potential jurors that once they enter the courthouse, they will be spaced out in the jury room and fill out a questionnaire. Then if they are summoned to a courtroom, they will make their way up in a designated elevator.
Only a limited number of people are allowed inside the courtrooms, and there is Plexiglas in front of the judges and the jurors.
In the jury deliberation rooms, where jurors take breaks or go through evidence and decide on potential verdicts, there will also be Plexiglas, hand sanitizer and gloves, as well as “air scrubbers,” described as devices that eliminate airborne microorganisms. When asked to further explain what the “air scrubbers” were late Monday, Oats said she did not have further information.
Monday’s release said “jurors should feel confident that the (court) is taking every precaution to ensure they can fulfill their important constitutional duty safely.”