Coronavirus: Jury Trials and Hearings Canceled for Two Months in Tom Green County
SAN ANGELO, TX – District Judges in Tom Green County have canceled all jury trials and most hearings for April and May according to a letter from 340th District Judge Jay Weatherby made public Wednesday morning.
In March, the decision was made to cancel all jury trials scheduled last month. Two months of jury trials canceled puts even more pressure on the already overloaded docket for the four district courts operating in the Tom Green County courthouse. The two month cancellation of jury trials delays justice for defendants and puts more pressure on District Judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys and costs county taxpayers more money.
The four District Judges; Jay Weatherby, Ben Woodward, Brad Goodwin and Carmen Dusek work hard everyday along with district court staff under difficult conditions because of the huge log of cases and this crisis has worsened conditions for defendants seeking justice whether in custody or out on bond.
On March 13, 2020, in recognition of the public health concerns as we knew them to be on that date, the District Courts and County Courts at Law of Tom Green County canceled all jury trials scheduled for the month of March, 2020. In the days that followed, Governor Abbott declared a state of disaster and issued several executive orders; the Supreme Court of Texas and Court of Criminal Appeals issued emergency orders regarding the administration of justice; and the Texas Office of Court Administration issued recommendations for proceeding under those executive and emergency orders. Those orders and recommendations placed restrictions on the types of hearings that Texas courts can hold, the manner in which those hearings may be held, and the number of people who may be present for those hearings. As a result, courts in Tom Green County are now extremely limited as to the types of cases that may be heard and the manner in which those cases may be addressed.
Jury Trials - The typical jury panel that is called for District Court cases in our county consists of 65-70 people (all of whom are gathered into a room and seated shoulder to shoulder). Because of the current limit on the number of people who may gather, it is not possible to proceed with jury trials at this time.
ALL TOM GREEN COUNTY JUSTICE OF THE PEACE, COUNTY COURT AT LAW AND DISTRICT COURT JURY TRIALS SCHEDULED FOR THE MONTH OF APRIL HAVE BEEN CANCELED. POTENTIAL JURORS DO NOT NEED TO APPEAR.
Bench Trials - Bench trials in criminal matters will not likely occur at this time. Although we are not dealing with the large numbers required for a jury trial, we are still typically dealing with numbers of people in excess of the stated limit. Additionally, most of these trials would require our First Responders to appear in court at a time when law enforcement resources are already spread very thin.
Bench Trials/Hearings in Civil and Family Law Matters - These trials and hearings are also limited to fewer than 10 attendees, and have been limited by emergency order to those matters that the Supreme Court of Texas and Court of Criminal Appeals deem to be “essential.”
That being said, all of the judges have worked tirelessly for the past couple of weeks to learn and implement Zoom video conferencing, and to adjust/recreate their administrative processes and procedures accordingly. We believe that this will allow for attorneys and parties to attend many types of hearings remotely, thus avoiding a risk to their health.
We are working daily to inform all parties of the status of their setting(s). If you have a question about your case or a scheduled court appearance, please contact the Court Administrator for the court in which you are scheduled to appear.
We will continue to monitor the situation in an effort to assure as little disruption of court processes as possible. We will do our best to make the public aware of any changes in those processes as they occur.
Here is the latest from Judge Weatherby:
1. All Tom Green County District Court Jury Trials scheduled for the months of APRIL and MAY have been CANCELED.
POTENTIAL JURORS DO NOT NEED TO APPEAR.
2. All Final Criminal Pre-Trial Hearings scheduled for April 7, 2020 were previously rescheduled for May 4, 2020 @ 9:00 a.m. At this time, there has been no determination regarding the rescheduling of May 4th and May 5th Final Criminal Pre-trial Hearings.
3. All Initial Criminal Pre-Trial Hearings currently scheduled for May 5, 2020 @ 2:00 p.m. are canceled. If any party has an objection to the Final Pre-trial or Jury Trial dates in the Original Order Setting Hearings, the objecting party must file a written objection to the dates for the Final Pre-Trial and/or Jury Trial no later than May 5, 2020. Objections to the Final Pre-Trial Hearing or Jury Trial date must specify a month that the case will be ready and all attorneys are available. Failure to file a written objection waives any objections to the remaining scheduled hearings. Vacation letters filed on or after the date of the Initial Pre-Trial deadline do not change this schedule unless a Motion for Continuance is filed in this case and the Court grants the Motion for Continuance.
4. All 28.01 Criminal Pre-Trial Hearings currently scheduled for May 13, 2020 @ 9:00 a.m. are canceled. All deadlines remain in place.
5. All Criminal Status Pre-Trial Hearings currently scheduled for May 13, 2020 @ 2:00 p.m. are canceled.
6. All MTR Pre-Trial Hearings for the months of April and May are canceled.
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