San Diego County Superior Court
The new San Diego County Superior Court in downtown San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone

Following six months without jury trials due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the San Diego Superior Court announced Tuesday that it has begun summoning jurors again in anticipation of trials resuming next month.

Jury duty summons were mailed out this week calling for prospective panelists to appear at the downtown San Diego courthouse beginning Oct. 9.

While one murder trial interrupted by the pandemic was completed while San Diego County courthouses were closed to the general public, a criminal trial slated to begin Oct. 13 will be the first to commence following the court closures.

Most other court proceedings have been conducted via video-conferencing during the pandemic, but the courts have grappled with the logistical and safety issues involved with inviting large numbers of people into the courthouses to report for jury duty, leading to a burgeoning backlog of criminal trials since the courthouses were shuttered mid-March.

The first batch of prospective jurors will be a far smaller pool of people than is usually summoned. According to a Superior Court statement, the downtown courthouse’s jury assembly room typically accommodates up to 400 people on any given day, but will take in about 20% of that capacity on Oct. 9.

Courthouses are also instituting new safety measures and precautions, including protective panels installed between each juror, social distancing within the courtroom, and jury deliberations held in larger rooms than usual to provide for adequate social distancing.

Other measures already in place for court employees and other visitors include temperature checks, mask requirements, social distancing and increased courtroom cleaning.

“As we safely and cautiously resume trials with a smaller potential juror pool, we will start by seating our first jury at the Central Courthouse before we expand to the other courthouses,” said Superior Court Presiding Judge Lorna Alksne. “We know this will be an uphill battle to work through all of the pending jury trials and we will only be able to accomplish this with the support of jurors willing to fulfill this public service. It is more critical than ever that you report for jury duty if summoned.”

Those whose jury service was previously deferred through Oct. 8 can consider their jury service complete. Those whose service was deferred until sometime after Oct. 8 will receive a new summons in the mail, according to the San Diego Superior Court.

— City News Service

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.