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Clark County courts suspend jury trials due to surge in COVID-19 cases in community

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor
Published:

Due to the surge of COVID-19 cases across the state and locally, Clark County courts announced Tuesday that all new jury trials are suspended into January.

Jury trials in Clark County Superior Court will be suspended through at least Jan. 10. The court reached its decision Nov. 25 but didn’t formalize the order until Tuesday, according to Superior Court Administrator Jessica Gurley.

Clark County District Court officials had also been discussing a temporary pause; on Tuesday, they decided on a suspension date of Jan. 11, according to District Court Administrator Amber Emery. The court planned to issue the order Tuesday night.

The announcements come as Clark County reported 67 new COVID-19 cases and nine new COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday, pushing the county’s total death toll from the novel coronavirus pandemic to 100. The new COVID-19 cases bring the county’s total to 8,908 to date, according to Public Health data.

Gurley said Superior Court looked to similarly sized courts across the state, particularly along the Interstate 5 corridor, for their responses to the surge in COVID-19 cases. (As of Monday, the state Department of Health had reported 167,216 confirmed COVID-19 cases.)

Courts in King, Pierce, Thurston and Lewis counties are among those that have temporarily suspended jury trials.

Though court officials are concerned about the current COVID-19 outbreak at the Clark County Jail, Gurley said the decision to temporarily halt jury trials was made based on community case numbers and how other courts have responded.

“We are trying to make sure we’re being socially responsible to the community, yet responsible to the due process of inmates,” she said.

As of Tuesday, there were 39 known COVID-19 cases among Clark County inmates, according to the jail’s COVID-19 information line. There were no known cases among jail staff.

To reduce the inmate population, Superior Court is again implementing bail release dockets on Tuesday mornings, beginning Dec. 8, Gurley said.

All Superior Court hearings will be held via Zoom, with litigants appearing via video or telephonically. Zoom hearing login information can be found at www.clark.wa.gov/superior-court/zoom-information.

“If a litigant must appear in person, hearings will take place with strict observance of social distancing and other public health measures,” a Superior Court news release states.

Information on District Court operations can be found at https://clark.wa.gov/district-court.

Current safety measures at the main courthouse, juvenile courthouse and Family Law Annex include “temperature checks, mandated masking, enforced social distancing, increased ventilation and targeted cleanings of high-touch surfaces throughout the day.”

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