Texas Extends Halt On In-Person Jury Trials To Dec.

By Katie Buehler
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Law360 (September 18, 2020, 6:09 PM EDT) -- The Texas Supreme Court said Friday it was pushing back in-person jury proceedings to Dec. 1 for justices and municipal courts while establishing a five-step plan for district courts that wish to try cases live before that date during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Friday's order marks the fourth time the high court has postponed in-person jury proceedings amid the public health crisis. At the end of May, the court paused all proceedings until Aug. 1. It has since postponed in-person jury proceedings to Sept. 1, then Oct. 1 and now Dec. 1.

The latest update lays out a series of requirements that district, statutory, constitutional county and statutory probate courts must meet in order to hold in-person jury proceedings before Dec. 1. The local administrative district judge must submit a plan for holding proceedings that is consistent with restrictions set by the courts, prove the proceeding will assist with coordinating resources or managing docket capacity, and consult with local health authorities no more than five days before the proceeding.

In addition, the court must consider on the record any objections or motions related to the proceedings at least seven days beforehand. The court also must establish communication protocols to ensure no participants have tested positive for the virus within the past 30 days, have symptoms or have been recently exposed to someone who tested positive, according to Friday's order.

A handful of state courts have experimented with virtual and in-person jury trials since the pandemic shut down courts in mid-March. 

A survey of Lone Star State attorneys, released in August by the Office of Court Administration, shows only 22% of the 2,782 surveyed attorneys believe in-person jury trials should resume this fall. Another 24% said the proceedings could start again in early 2021, but the largest portion, 31%, said they shouldn't start until a vaccine is widely available. 

--Editing by Peter Rozovsky.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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