Gregg County courts are postponing jury selection and jury trials through at least mid-January because of a continued increase in COVID-19 cases.
Judge Alfonso Charles of the 124th District Court said Wednesday that the county came to the decision based on a continued increase in virus cases since November. A Jan. 4 grand jury panel has been cancelled as well as the Jan. 11 jury panel.
“Based on current COVID numbers in Gregg County, we decided that it’s not a good idea to call in a jury panel right after Christmas,” Charles said. “One of the fears was that we saw numbers rise after Thanksgiving, and numbers have continued to increase.”
Charles said that if the number of COVID-19 cases in the county stays the same or continues to rise, it would not be safe to call a jury panel.
Judges in consultation with the Gregg County Health Department made the decision to postpone jury trials. The county has not called a jury panel or held a jury trial since November.
“We are cautiously optimistic to resume calling jury panels Jan. 18 or Jan. 25,” Charles said. “It depends on where we are with our numbers.”
Officials likely will begin discussions around Jan. 11, Charles said. The judges are required to consult with a local health authority within five days before a trial based on Texas Supreme Court emergency orders.
“We put the safety of the community first,” Charles said.
At this time, other hearings are still scheduled and conducted in person and via Zoom, but that could soon change.
“The Office of Court Administration is issuing a new guide,” Charles said. “Part of it would restrict in-person hearings, encouraging courts to do as much remotely as possible.”
Charles added that some courts may need to have in-person operating plans re-certified
“When those plans were done back in June, masks were encouraged, not required,” Charles said.
The new guidelines would likely require masks, he said.
In early September, jury trials resumed in Gregg County after a months-long hiatus because of the pandemic. Only four trials were held between September and November.