CORONAVIRUS

Task force will make recommendations on how to resume jury trials, given coronavirus concerns

DES MOINES — The Iowa Supreme Court has asked a group of criminal and civil lawyers, judges and court staff from judicial districts across the state to make recommendations on how criminal and civil jury trials will resume with coronavirus health restrictions.

The court is asking the 17-member Jumpstart Jury Trials Task Force to develop temporary policies and procedures for jury trials that will ensure the “fundamental rights of a defendant” to a jury trial, while at the same time “protecting the health and safety” of the jurors, attorneys, judges and the public, said Des Moines lawyer Guy Cook, co-chairman of the task force.

The court, Cook said Thursday, has put together a “good cross-section” of professionals who have experience with civil and criminal trials.

Task force members are:

• Associate Supreme Court Justice Mark McDermott, chairman

• Guy Cook, Des Moines criminal and civil attorney, co-chairman

• 4th Judicial District Judge Michael Hooper

• 5th Judicial District Judge David Porter

• Angela Campbell, Des Moines criminal defense attorney

• Jim Craig, Cedar Rapids civil attorney, president of Iowa Defense Counsel Association

• Janietta Criswell, clerk and jury manager, 8th Judicial District, Ottumwa

• Kathy Gaylord, district court administrator, 7th Judicial District, Davenport

• Patrick Jennings, Woodbury county attorney, Sioux City

• Julie Kneip, clerk of court, 2nd Judicial District, Fort Dodge

• Bill Miller, Des Moines civil attorney, chairman of Iowa State Bar Association litigation

• Todd Nuccio, Iowa state court administrator

• Jerry Schnurr, Fort Dodge civil attorney and president-elect of Iowa State Bar Association

• Jennifer Solberg, Woodbury County chief public defender

• Chad Swanson, Waterloo civil attorney, president of Iowa Association of Justice

• Brian Williams, Black Hawk county attorney

• Mark Headlee, information technology director of Iowa Judicial Branch

The committee will review the current schedule to resume jury trials that the court has established in consultation with public health officials and other health care providers, and recommend whether the schedule should be altered, according to the court’s order.

Jury criminal trials can resume July 13 and civil trials Aug. 3, according to the order.

The task force also will make recommendations for how those trials should proceed, according to the court’s order.

Members should develop policies and procedures aimed at protecting the health and safety of jurors, court staff, attorneys, judges and visitors throughout the trial process, particularly during the identification of potential jurors, summons of potential jurors, jury selection, trials, jury instructions and jury deliberations.

Cook said members will have to consider the challenges for each type of trial. More jurors, for example, are needed in a criminal case, so space and logistics will have to be considered with social distancing requirements.

That will be more difficult in the rural courthouses that have less space.

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A pool of 80 to 100 potential jurors are sometimes summoned for felony trials in larger counties, but that, too, may be a challenge with social distancing.

Another possibility would be requiring masks, but how will a mask affect the credibility of a witness if it hides the person’s facial expressions, Cook said.

These are all issues the members may encounter.

Steve Davis, Iowa Judicial Branch spokesman, said the goal is one uniform statewide plan, but it’s possible that each district may have some discretion, as in the previous orders issued during this pandemic, because of the differences in each county.

Davis said the task force members were chosen based on gender, background and geographic area.

The recommendations should be submitted to the court the first week in June.

Davis said he didn’t yet know when the task force would start meeting by phone or video conference or how often.

Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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