The plan is to select a jury offsite but still hold trials at the Clark County Courthouse
The jury is out.
At least, potential jurors will be out there, about 10 miles from the courthouse.
Clark County Superior Court will be using the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds for jury selection when trials resume. This will allow for up to two jury pools to safely gather with social distance guidelines as the court system tries to navigate pandemic protocols.
Exhibition halls at the event center have been turned into two courtrooms, along with a staging area, with seating available for 100 potential jurors.
“We’re doing business differently,” said Superior Court Judge Scott A. Collier, adding that the courts must protect the community but also ensure the rights of defendants.
“All across the state, jury selections are going on outside the courthouse,” Collier said. “We can select a jury, get the pool small enough, go back and use the courthouse, and we can social distance and run a safe jury trial.”
In general, superior courts use a pool of around 40 people to select a 12-person jury. That is too many people to use the courthouse during the pandemic.
“We needed a place that could seat enough for a couple of panels,” Collier said, adding that on occasion, one case might need up to 80 people in a pool.
The set-up at the fairgrounds is big enough to select two juries at a time, with the staging area in between the two courtrooms.
“This was the only place we could find that was large enough to do it all at one site,” Collier said.
Members of the court as well as event center employees held a practice run earlier this summer.
“What we really wanted to look at was people flow,” said Superior Court Administrator Jessica Gurley. “How were people going to get from the parking lot, in through the doors, through security?”
Administrators needed to see how to keep jurors lined up appropriately, so that there would not be any chaos moving into the courtroom.
Those in the jury pool will receive “goodie” bags, as well, Gurley said, with hand sanitizer, a personal trash bag, an N95 mask, and other items to help keep them safe.
The potential jurists also will be assigned a seat in the staging area. When in the staging area, they cannot move to another chair.
Once checked in and in the staging area, jury pool members will be told which judge they will be working with that day. That will determine which courtroom they enter when called. Once they go into a courtroom, they will have another seat exclusively reserved for them.
“At that point, it’s like running court, but in a unique setting,” Collier said. “They’ll do regular, traditional jury selection.”
“It’s modeled after our courtroom, just expanded spacing,” Gurley said.
“You increase the space, the chances of transmittal goes down,” Collier added.
There will be security, just like a traditional courtroom. The defendant will be there, because, as Collier noted, the defendant has the right to consult with his or her attorney during jury selection.
Once a jury is determined, the judge will announce a start time for the trial and instruct the jurors to meet at the courthouse.
“At that point, it’s still not going to be like a regular trial, but it will be,” Collier said.
In normal times, the entire jury sits in a jury box. Now, only four can be in the jury box, so the rest are spread out through the public seating area. Collier noted there is still room for the public to observe from the back of the courtroom.
Oh, and for one case, the courthouse needs to use two courtrooms. The typical jury room is too small. So, when the jury is asked to leave the room, it must go into another courtroom in order to adhere to distance requirements.
The courtrooms at the fairgrounds are for Superior Court only. District Court seats six-person juries and only have a pool of about 16 for jury selection. Interestingly, District Court is using the bigger courtrooms of Superior Court for its jury selection.
For now, the plan is to use the fairgrounds only for jury selection. But Gurley said it is possible to hold a trial at the fairgrounds if needed.
The fairgrounds site has not yet been used for jury selection. Collier said it was almost used a couple weeks ago, but a last-minute deal ended that case. Collier said it is possible that the fairgrounds will host jury selection for a case toward the end of August.