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District Court in Las Vegas resumes jury trials with COVID-19 precautions in place

Posted at 10:47 PM, Sep 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-24 01:46:09-04

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — The Eighth Judicial District Court (EJDC) of Nevada will resume jury trials this week with an extensive plan in place that involves air purification, rapid testing, social distance measures throughout the process, plexiglass partitions, and other precautions in place to keep jurors, judges, attorney and other trial participants socially distant and compliant with the Center for Disease Control guidelines.

A live video stream of trials will be available on the court website home page www.clarkcountycourts.us.

Jury trials have been suspended since March 14 after Gov. Steve Sisolak declared a state of emergency in Nevada in response to the outbreak of the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19).

RELATED: Las Vegas Justice Court issues COVID-19 procedures

“District Court is committed to safely resuming jury trials in Clark County in order to fulfill the court’s responsibility of providing fair and timely administration of justice,” said Chief Judge Linda Bell. “We worked closely with several entities, including Clark County, University Medical Center (UMC), the State of Nevada’s Division of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and the Southern Nevada Health District (SNHD) to develop and implement a very comprehensive plan that enables the court to resume its in-person jury operation in a manner that protects those who participate in the jury trial process during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The EJDC plan is designed to conduct in-person jury trials by taking every reasonable precaution that has been recommended by community health care professionals including:

· The Jury Commissioner will mail a letter accompanying jury summonses advising all prospective jurors of the COVID-19 safety protocols contained in this plan. The letter will further include advisement regarding the availability of a hardship deferral or excusal for COVID-19 related reasons. Prospective jurors who are experiencing symptoms, feeling sick, or have been exposed to COVID-19 will be advised to NOT report for jury duty. Prospective jurors who are considered high risk, such as persons 65 years of age or older or persons with underlying medical conditions which place the person at risk will be eligible for a deferral.

· The Jury Commissioner will summons a reduced number of citizens to field a sufficient amount of jurors for a venire not to exceed 55 prospective jurors at any one time.

· A new standard supplemental questionnaire will be added questionnaire will seek information to help shorten the jury selection process by allowing the court and counsel to pre-screen prospective jurors for issues related to undue hardship, extreme inconvenience, and overall fitness to serve.

· The supplemental questionnaire will include COVID-19 questions that will allow prospective jurors to reflect on whether they believe they can safely serve as a juror.

· Before entering the jury room, each prospective juror will undergo a temperature check and answer the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approved COVID-19 screening questions. Prospective jurors will be checked-in by jury services staff and then be seated on socially distanced chairs in the jury room. Appropriate facial coverings must be required to be worn continuously at all times. A maximum of 55 persons will be allowed in the jury room at one time. Hand sanitizer stations will be available for use by all trial participants throughout the jury room and courthouse, as will other PPE such as disposable masks, gloves, and cleaning supplies.

· District Court trials in the Regional Justice Center will only be conducted in re-configured courtrooms that are capable of accommodating six feet of social distancing between trial participants. Physical modifications will include removing barriers to create more open space. In areas where six feet of social distancing is not practical, such as the judge’s bench, witness stand, counsel tables, and court staff desks, plexiglass physical dividers will be installed.

· Additional video monitors, microphones, and other forms of technology will be added to ensure trial participants can clearly see and hear the proceeding. If microphones are used, they will either be disinfected after each use, or the court will use disposable microphone covers.

Consistent with the recommendations from our health care partners, the court will work with Clark County Real Property Management to take additional measures including:

· Enhance the air quality and air disinfection within the courthouse.

· Enhance the environmental sanitation in the Regional Justice Center.

· Increasing porter services throughout the day to continuously disinfect high touch surfaces i.e. (elevator buttons, escalator handrails, restroom spaces, etc.), and providing individual antibacterial cleaning wipes for all trial participants to wipe high touch areas during breaks to increase frequency and surface cleaning.

· Enhance Regional Justice Center’s infection controls. This will include, replacing cloth chairs with cleanable material, adding hand sanitizer stations at all entrances with greater than 60 percent alcohol, adding plexiglass dividers, additional signage to encourage hand washing and symptoms review, and language to jurors admonishing them not to attend large gatherings during the trial.

· Seated jurors will be provided the option to have a clear face shield to wear in addition to their masks for added protection. They will also receive a new, unused notepad and a new, unused pen. The jurors will leave the pen and pad at their seats during breaks/evenings.

· Defense counsel will be provided with a headset system to have private, confidential communication with their client and maintain social distancing.

· Trial exhibits may only be submitted electronically unless otherwise permitted by the trial judge. If paper or physical evidence is determined to be necessary, disposable gloves must be used by all trial participants.

· Judges will move to an alternative location where social distancing may be maintained and a record may be made for any discussions required outside the presence of the jury.

· Jury deliberation rooms in the courthouse will not be used at this time due to their limited size. Instead, jury deliberations will be conducted in the courtroom or an adjacent courtroom where jurors can be safely socially distanced.

· Juror meals provided by the court during the trial will be individually prepared meals rather than buffet style to reduce the risk of exposure.

· District Court IT will provide live streaming access to any open public trial proceeding. No in-person spectators will be permitted in the courtroom. At any time during the trial, the judge may order live streaming to be turned to “audio-only” should it be deemed necessary for the safety and security of a witness.

The EJDC and UMC have entered into a COVID-19 Testing Services Agreement. This agreement will provide onsite COVID-19 rapid testing to all trial participants, including jurors, attorneys, and court personnel, who are developing symptoms during a trial or to those who report a potential exposure and a corresponding action plan.

The District Court is closely monitoring local developments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and is implementing measures to prevent the spread of infection in our community.