Judges, prosecutors working to restart jury trials

Judges, prosecutors working to restart jury trials

LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - The wheels of justice are already notorious for turning slowly and the pandemic has only made things worse. It has been months since there has been a jury trial in state district court in Calcasieu, but judges and prosecutors are trying to get things moving again.

“Everyone wants to be cognizant of everyone’s health and safety while also being cognizant we have defendants who have a right to their day in court, we have victims who need closure and justice,” said Jacob Johnson, first assistant district attorney with the Calcasieu District Attorney’s Office. “We have an entire justice system that needs to move along as much as we can help it move along.”

The judges have been holding various hearings, often using Zoom, and are devising plans to again hold jury trials without putting anyone’s health at risk.

“We’re not letting people into the building without masks,” said Judge Robert Wyatt. “We’re going to provide for as much social distancing as is available. And we want them to know that we care about their safety and those concerns. The system has to move on, but we want to do it safely, so we’re all on the same page in that regard.”

Wyatt says they are following directives from the state Supreme Court as they plan to resume jury trials.

Wyatt and Judge Clayton Davis each have a jury week on Aug. 24. Wyatt says they will likely use the large courtroom in the old, historic courthouse to pick jurors because it allows for adequate spacing.

“If we are able to set up all the pieces that we need together from an electrical and internet and acoustics standpoint in Courtroom A, we have the luxury of having some real open space in there if you’ll recall, where we could put people about five, six feet apart,” Wyatt said. “Another thing we’ve already taken the initiative to do is buy face shields for all the jurors.”

Though actual trials may have to be held in the more modern courtrooms in the judicial center, he says they plan to do everything they can to protect those who do their civic duty.

Some residents may see a jury summons in their mailbox in a couple of weeks.

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