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Lauderdale County jury trials still in limbo during coronavirus pandemic

Jury trials in both civil and criminal cases aren't happening.

Posted: Jul 20, 2020 5:18 PM
Updated: Jul 20, 2020 5:56 PM

It will be at least two months before juries can return to the courtroom and with coronavirus cases in Alabama rising, the wait for a jury trial could be longer.

Most hearings, pre-trials and other court hearings are now happening behind a screen over Zoom meetings. Lauderdale County Judge Gil Self told WAAY 31 he closed in-person court hearings a few days before the state mandated it in March. Right now, trials that call for a jury aren't happening.

"The real frustrating part is not being able to have jury trials. We're able to have other hearings with the judges who have been cooperative about having virtual hearings, and that's all worked really well," said Lauderdale County District Attorney Chris Connolly.

Connolly now has many staff meetings and hearings on his computer. He said he's split his staff up so not everyone is in the office at the same time. Connolly said about 90% of criminal cases can be handled out of court, but victims' families and defendants who want a jury trial can't have one right now.

"You've got victims whose loved ones have been murdered. You've got child victims that have had horrible things done to. You can't get those people to justice and so that's very frustrating for us, but more importantly for the families and victims of those types of crimes," said Connolly.

Attorney Tommy James says he's also dealing with hurdles in civil court. He represents victims of Daniel and Jenise Spurgeon in a civil case against the former foster couple and DHR. James said victims across the board are being re-victimized because of the slowed-down court process.

"The pandemic slowing things down, everybody is having to schedule around it and trying to get things done. It's affecting my clients," said James.

The Alabama Supreme Court said juries can start meeting for civil and criminal cases in September, but Judge Self said that timeline could change.

"It is slowing matters down. At this point, I don't think it's realistic to expect that we're allowed to summons a jury pool Sept. 15," said Self.

Some grand juries are convening in larger spaces. The Lauderdale County Courthouse is outfitted with temperature readers, hand sanitizer, extra cleaning staff, and everyone must wear a mask.

"I am responsible for the state employees in the building, county and other municipal courts, and I feel an enormous responsibility to protect them and their families," said Self. "Lauderdale County is having some issues with COVID right now and there is probably more reason to be closed now than when I closed the place, and I'm glad I have that discretion."

Self is allowing some in-person court hearings but those are on a case-by-case basis and only in extreme circumstances like domestic violence cases, cases involving children or murder cases.

"The virtual technology is good, but seeing the individual, the demeanor, the behavior, how they react to questions, their body language can be very telling, so there are certain cases I can't risk not being conducted in person," said Self.

Self said he is doubtful jury trials will start back in September, but if they do, he plans to have a bigger area for potential jurors to be struck on a case. During a normal jury selection, dozens of people who get summons in the mail show up.

Self said he's not sure when he will allow full-time, in-person hearings again. He said he's going to keep watching the virus to make that determination.

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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 136055

Reported Deaths: 2364
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson19752350
Mobile13449292
Montgomery8852184
Tuscaloosa8654118
Madison792778
Shelby601349
Lee592760
Baldwin552650
Marshall396143
Calhoun353444
Etowah352145
Morgan331428
Houston292021
Elmore267348
DeKalb243221
St. Clair233036
Walker231984
Talladega217129
Limestone211920
Cullman190720
Dallas179126
Franklin178129
Autauga177325
Russell17633
Lauderdale172333
Colbert166626
Blount161715
Escambia161124
Chilton158830
Jackson158111
Covington140327
Dale139244
Coffee13596
Pike120510
Chambers116842
Tallapoosa116485
Clarke110016
Marion96829
Butler91339
Barbour8857
Winston74512
Marengo72420
Pickens66614
Bibb65610
Lowndes65427
Randolph65413
Hale64428
Geneva6344
Lawrence62123
Cherokee61213
Bullock60614
Monroe5908
Clay5878
Washington55913
Perry5416
Crenshaw54032
Conecuh53611
Wilcox53211
Henry5075
Macon48318
Fayette4628
Sumter43819
Cleburne3825
Lamar3702
Choctaw35112
Greene30315
Coosa1723
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 192995

Reported Deaths: 2377
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby30953459
Davidson26630306
Hamilton951995
Knox949779
Rutherford936189
Williamson531036
Sumner486598
Wilson351945
Putnam334940
Montgomery311144
Unassigned30425
Out of TN298627
Bradley296217
Madison292164
Sevier263815
Blount253524
Maury240924
Washington232836
Robertson222535
Sullivan219733
Hamblen193926
Tipton183219
Gibson170423
Trousdale16667
Hardeman158226
Wayne14995
Dyer138714
Bedford136417
Dickson127415
Coffee125413
Cumberland121718
Weakley120519
Fayette120419
Anderson120013
Obion119110
Henderson118924
Loudon11846
Carter117728
Greene116144
McMinn114625
Jefferson113014
Warren10757
Lawrence106713
Macon106721
Monroe105218
Hardin104716
Lauderdale99416
Haywood99221
Franklin9899
Lake9252
Roane9055
Carroll89920
McNairy89618
Bledsoe8624
White8479
Rhea84412
Hawkins82218
Cheatham81510
Marshall7785
Overton7586
Cocke7549
Smith73111
Johnson7262
Chester64310
Giles63117
Henry6289
Lincoln6241
Hickman5938
DeKalb57014
Crockett54219
Marion5338
Decatur5307
Fentress5263
Campbell4544
Claiborne4425
Polk39910
Grainger3863
Union3642
Benton3379
Jackson3315
Morgan3203
Grundy3095
Cannon2920
Unicoi2891
Humphreys2583
Sequatchie2381
Clay2335
Meigs2283
Houston2243
Scott2172
Stewart2142
Lewis2041
Moore1791
Van Buren1660
Perry1530
Pickett1232
Hancock1083

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