With two upcoming jury trials set in Dickinson County District Court, keeping everyone safe has been a priority concern, Cindy MacDonald, clerk of the court, told the Dickinson County Commission last week.
She said the court received calls from 560 concerned potential jurors, one threatening a lawsuit if they were called to serve and contracted COVID-19.
“We encourage them to talk to us,” MacDonald told commissioners. “We are doing everything possible to keep them safe.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and orders by the Kansas Supreme Court, Dickinson County hasn’t held a trial by jury since October 2019.
Two recent jury trials were canceled, one because of a plea agreement and the other when charges were dropped.
Since March both District Judge Benjamin Sexton and Magistrate Judge Keith Collett have relied on hearings over Zoom.
MacDonald said so far only criminal trials are on the January docket.
“The defendants have a right. We have to be able to still hold jury trials for the defendants,” she said. “Civil trials we are putting off until things maybe calm down.”
She said the jury trials are going to create extra work for staff.
“We want to make sure we are doing everything we can so everyone is protected and safe,” she said.
In the event of a jury trial, MacDonald said, because of space restrictions, the courtroom would be closed to the public but the trial will be broadcast live over YouTube.
“Once the jury has been selected, we will have them spread throughout the courtroom,” she said.
Potential jurors were given a questionnaire asking COVID-19 related questions.
“For those that are concerned, we are being very lenient in either deferring them or excusing them, depending on their medical information,” she said. “If they are older and have an underlying condition that is not going to get better, we are going to just excuse them,” she said.
The district court is expected to relocate to Sterl Hall some time in the spring for 180 days for courthouse renovation.
MacDonald said the court has ordered “soccer mom tents” for jurors to sit in during trails held at Sterl Hall.
“They are clear plastic and a person can sit inside of that with a chair,” she said. “Our space is limited over there.”
The two upcoming trials are set for Jan. 20, 21 and 22 and Jan. 25 and 26.
In the first case, Leobardo Reynaga Jr., entered an innocent plea to indecencies with a child from 2015 to 2017. He was arrested over a year ago.
In the other case, Steven P. Zelniker Sr., entered an innocent plea for criminal threat.
Contact Tim Horan at email@example.com.