The State Of Our Courts During COVID-19

Trials are still suspended. Hearings are remote. When will this end?

Most court rooms throughout the country have been operating on a limited basis during the time of COVID-19. Our Pima County Superior Court is no different. Leighton Sr. and Leighton Jr. recently attended a video-conference seminar held by numerous Superior Court judges representing the different benches from the Court. This includes, Criminal, Civil, Probate, and Family Law. This is a summary of what was learned.

Almost all hearings are currently being held either telephonically or over Microsoft Teams, a web-based video-conferencing software. Very few people need to physically enter the courthouse currently. Those that do are subjected to temperature checks and of course, must wear a face covering.  While some jurisdictions across the county have held “Zoom” trials, our judges have not felt comfortable taking that leap. Precautions are in place to hold jury trials in limited form, once they do start, and with significant modifications to the arrangement of jurors and attorneys within the court rooms. However, despite these modifications, according to Administrative Order 2020-48, trials in our superior court are currently suspended until February 1, 2021 at the earliest.

There is a good possibility this date will be pushed back even further as it approaches. When trials do eventually resume, as trials have been suspended since March of 2020, there will be a tremendous backlog for the judges to work through. Furthermore, they will be doing so on a limited basis, with only two courtrooms of sufficient size to handle the modifications in place. These modifications include seating jurors six feet apart, and at times in the viewing section, or where attorneys typically sit. The attorneys will be moved further away from the jurors and witnesses will be seated on the floor, rather than in the witness stand so that the attorneys can see them. Trials will begin on staggered days, rather than all starting on Tuesday as was the practice for decades. This will prevent the need to congregate hundreds of jurors in the assembly room at the start of jury selection.

Criminal, family, and probate cases will all take precedent over civil trials, due to their urgency for resolution. Judges are currently scheduling new civil trials for the later part of 2021. However, no one knows if these dates will be pushed back further. Given the slow roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines and the surging infection counts, further delays to trials seem likely.

For now, if asked when trials will resume, the official answer from our Presiding Judge Hon. D. Douglas Metcalf is “When it can be accomplished safely.”

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