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Jury trials to resume in Washoe Courts

Washoe County Courthouse
Washoe County Courthouse(Ed Pearce)
Published: Sep. 15, 2020 at 6:34 PM PDT
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - The calendar in Judge Elliott Sattler’s courtroom still reads March 17. Normal business in this and other Washoe County courtrooms came to an end the very next day as the courthouse itself was closed to the public as the justice system responded to the demands of the pandemic.

The search for other ways to keep the wheels of justice moving began almost immediately.

One was already in the works--hearings conducted remotely on ZOOM became the norm.

“We actually began all of our ZOOM meetings and hearings immediately and it’s been going very well," says District Court Judge Elliott Satttler.. All of the district court judges and the family court masters have been doing everything other than jury trials since mid-March of this year.”

Jury trials were the big question. Our courtrooms weren’t designed for social distancing. Whatever the answer, it had to offer a safe environment for all concerned.

Two committees, one for criminal trials, one for civil, along with the sheriff’s office and the health district began the search for a solution. Other locations were considered, including the Pioneer Theatre across the street. Security and safety concerns led them back where they began.

“Ultimately it was decided for a number of reasons the safest and most effective place we could do them and comply with all the requirements that the health district has given us was right here in this building," says Judge Sattler.

A pair of courtrooms--those with the most space-- will be modified. Plexiglass will separate jurors from each other. Everyone will be masked, except perhaps when testifying. Video feeds will allow everyone to watch the jury selection from elsewhere in the courthouse. Jurors won’t retire to the jury room during breaks. Instead, the entire floor will in effect be the jury room.

“Which means I won’t even be allowed to be in my office during a jury trial," says Judge Sattler, "because the jury will be able to use our courtroom and the jury room for Department 10 to gather and social distance.”

And when it comes to deliberation, jurors will be sequestered. The courthouse itself will be closed.

Will it work? Sattler says yes.

“One of the core, if not the core function, of the court system is the jury trial. It’s a constitutional right that we have to do everything possible that we’re doing safely and effectively. I’m looking forward to it.”

Copyright 2020 KOLO. All rights reserved.

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