Grayson Co. expected to resume jury trials in February

Published: Jan. 19, 2021 at 9:31 PM CST
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The Grayson County District Attorney’s Office has been moving cases throughout the pandemic, albeit virtually, with hearings and sentencing being held over Zoom.

Grayson County District Attorney Brett Smith said “everything is moving forward” and he expects jury trials to resume by February.

“The vast majority of work has been done by zoom conference,” Smith said. “I think it’s gone phenomenally. Frankly we’ve kept the wheels of justice moving.”

Grayson County held its last in-person jury trial in December before being forced to move to a teleconference format following a holiday surge of COVID-19 cases.

Courts will have to submit a COVID-19 operating plan which includes disinfecting measures, ensuring social distancing among jurors, and the incorporation of plex-glass dividers that must be approved by the local administrative judge, the regional administrative judge. Five days prior to trial they must also obtain the blessing from the Grayson County Health Department.

“We’ve been able to manage the system, keep the jail population under control,” Smith said. “There are people that are sitting in jail waiting for their day in court. That’s their right and we’ll give them their day in court.”

Smith credited the work of district and county judges, the Grayson County Sheriff’s Office, jail administrative staff and the entire Grayson County Bar Association for keeping operations moving during the pandemic.

“We’re hearing everything, divorces, family law, civil cases,” said District Court Judge Jim Fallon. “We’ve got authorization from the state to start back up again with jury trials. We can only have one jury panel per week where usually we have three. But because of the spacing it limits (our courts) to one jury trial each a month.”

There are three district courts in Grayson County and each court will hold one trial a week starting next month. Fallon said “we can’t have enough people to have more than one trial a week.”

The first felony jury trial will be held on Feb. 1 at the 397th district court, the next trial is Feb. 8 and will be held at the 15th district court and Feb. 22 the third felony jury trial it will be held a the 59th district court.

“On Zoom it’s more difficult because you lose the courtroom atmosphere and that’s proven to be more difficult,” Fallon said.

Anyone who receives a jury summons through the court going forward will have the option to be exempt from jury duty, or ask placed on another jury panel for a later date.

“There is a letter sent out with every jury summons that if you’re of a certain age, if you’re in a high risk group, if you’ve been exposed to COVID, if you have any symptoms, or if you’re just concerned about your safety because of the pandemic it gives them a number to call.” Smith said. They can see whether they can be exempted or possibly placed into another jury panel under another date.”

Smith said his office’s case load coming up is primarily focused on incarcerated defendants “charge with serious felony offenses.”

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