CORONAVIRUS

Iowa courts: Health guidelines in place for jury trials to resume in September

Iowa Supreme Court Justice Susan Christensen signed the order Wednesday based on recommendations from a 17-member task f
Iowa Supreme Court Justice Susan Christensen signed the order Wednesday based on recommendations from a 17-member task force. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)

Jury trials will resume in Iowa on Sept. 14 governed by a long list of public health recommendations, the Iowa Supreme Court ordered Wednesday.

The guidelines will include pre-screening jurors for COVID-19 symptoms with a questionnaire away from the courthouse, selecting a larger pool of potential jurors and reconfiguring courtrooms for social distancing.

Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Susan Christensen signed the order Wednesday based on recommendations from the 17-member Jumpstart Jury Trials Task Force.

The recommendations address jury summoning, trial operations and deliberations.

The guidelines were created in an effort to balance “measures to reduce the spread of the virus” with the judicial branch’s “commitment to ensuring access to justice,” according to the court.

Potential jurors will receive a list of seven questions related to the coronavirus before they’re selected for possible jury duty. Those who say they’re experiencing coronavirus symptoms or are in a high-risk group may be offered a 12-month deferral, according to the order.

“The idea of pre-screening and questionnaires is so that some of this stuff can be done away from the courthouse so that people are not at risk of coming to the courthouse,” said Des Moines lawyer Guy Cook, who chaired the task force.

Courts also will be encouraged to select a larger pool of potential jurors in case several have to be deferred.

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Jurors experiencing COVID-19 symptoms leading up to a trial will be instructed not to come to the courthouse.

Courts will provide jurors with a clear face shield, one of the recommendations from the task force.

The order also recommends courtrooms reconfigure to accommodate 6-foot social distancing.

Criminal cases will be first up when jury trials resume, with civil trials after that.

The Task Force, according to Cook, was composed of a “cross section” of judges, lawyers and other court personnel from across Iowa. The recommendations included input from public health officials at the University of Iowa and federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Comments: (319) 398-8370; sarah.watson@thegazette.com

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