New Orleans, LA- By Supreme Court Order of February 11, 2021, the moratorium on jury trials will expire on March 31, 2021, and trial courts are free to resume jury trials on April 1, 2021. According to the Order, jury trials may resume when local courts have determined that jury trials can be held in a safe environment, with observance of safety protocols, including strict social distancing and mask mandates.
“It is imperative that members of the public feel safe in returning to our courthouses for jury duty. Serving as a juror is one of the most important civic responsibilities to be undertaken by our citizens, and it is the courts’ responsibility to ensure their safety,” stated Chief Justice John Weimer. “In a jury trial, jurors are the most important people in the courthouse because without them, our system of justice simply cannot work. Thank you to everyone who steps up to serve as a juror as we schedule trials to work through the backlog of cases resulting from the pandemic.”
Chief Justice Weimer continued, “Mindful of our responsibility to provide a safe environment for our jurors, we assembled a diverse team of experts from the legal field to develop best practices in resuming jury trials. We consulted with medical experts, including Dr. Joseph Kanter of the Louisiana Department of Health (who, coincidently, responded to a summons for jury service), and Theresa Sokol, Louisiana State Epidemiologist, for advice on safety protocols. We have shared this advice with our judges, which I am confident will enhance the safety of our courthouses.”
As state courts prepare for the resumption of jury trials, they will need to contemplate public traffic to courts and court facilities and staffing, while ensuring priority is given to public safety and the integrity of
the judicial process. The goal is to build on current safety methods already used in state courts—such as wearing a mask, social distancing, hand sanitizing, and observance of building capacity rules.
Courts will need to be adaptive and reflective of ongoing changes as they adopt a ‘new normal’ regarding in-person proceedings and jury trials. The public can be assured that while in-person attendance is required, the latest safety information has been utilized and is paramount in creating and maintaining an environment in which they can feel secure and free to conduct business while in courthouse facilities across the state of Louisiana.
Throughout the pandemic, judges have remained at work and adopted innovative technology to continue to serve those seeking justice. Mindful of a backlog of cases that may have resulted by the temporary halting of jury trials to ensure public safety, the Court also gathered a team of judges and stakeholders in the legal system to consider how to resolve any resulting backlog.
“In the past year, courts have used video technology to conduct certain legal proceedings virtually; in the current phase, with the introduction of vaccine options, it is prudent to the judicial process that we adopt practices that allow us to serve the public in person,” said Chief Justice John L. Weimer.
Chief Justice Weimer and the Justices of the Supreme Court wish to thank the following for their input and participation: Chief Judge Susan Chehardy, 5th Circuit Court of Appeal and President of the Louisiana Judicial College; Judge Brady O’Callaghan, 1st JDC and President of the Louisiana District Judges’ Association; Judge Scott Schlegel, 24th JDC and Board Member of the Louisiana District Judges’ Association; Judge Danny Ellender, 4th JDC and Board Member of the Louisiana District Judges’ Association; Judge Patricia Koch, 9th JDC and Board Member of the Louisiana District Judges’ Association; Judge Timothy Marcel, 29th JDC and Board Member of the Louisiana District Judges’ Association; Chief Judge Wilson Fields, 19th JDC; Chief Judge Karen Herman, Orleans Criminal District Court; Judge Nakisha Ervin-Knott, Orleans Civil District Court; Judge Katherine Dorroh, 1st JDC; Judge Lala Sylvester, 10th JDC; Judge William Morvant, 19th JDC; Judge Scott Gardner, 22nd JDC; and judicial partners: Loren Lampert and Bobby Freeman, Louisiana District Attorneys Association; Remy Starns, State Public Defender; Debbie Hudnall, Executive Director, Clerks’ of Court Association; Alainna R. Mire, President of the Louisiana State Bar Association; Professor William Corbett, Louisiana Association of Defense Counsel; Connie Koury, Louisiana Association of Justice; and Shannon Dirmann, Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association.