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New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe)

N.J. courts prepare to resume jury trials in September

By David Wildstein, July 22 2020 6:51 pm

New Jersey will slowly resume jury trials in September, using a hybrid system of remote and in-person jury selection and utilizing social distancing during a limited reopening of county courthouses.

“This is a temporary solution to an unprecedented situation,” Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said. “We cannot predict when jury trials will be able to resume in the same manner they were held pre-COVID 19. Nor can we leave them on hold indefinitely. The Judiciary has a responsibility to ensure the fair and timely administration of justice, and resuming jury trials is a key part of fulfilling that responsibility.”

Rabner halted jury trials in March.

The current plan is to start with a limited number of trials, based on the size of courthouses, so that jurors can be kept apart – in courtrooms and in public areas.

“We face severe space restrictions. We will need multiple courtrooms for individual trials and will be unable in some counties to conduct multiple trials simultaneously for the foreseeable future,” said Jessica Lewis Kelly, a special assistant to the acting administrative director of the New Jersey Courts.  “The pre-COVID-19 model of packed jury assembly rooms is simply not an option.”

In a briefing on Wednesday, Lewis Kelly said that the courts cannot bring significant numbers of jurors in at one time.

According to Lewis Kelly, prospective jurors over age 65 or those with underlying medical conditions that would increase their exposure to coronavirus would have their juror service deferred.

“The plan is to start with simple, shorter trials that will not involve case-specific questionnaires, which will be added as the types of jury trials expand,” Lewis Kelly said.  “We will expand to complex Civil trials as promptly as practicable, leveraging the technology we have employed during remote operations to facilitate presentation of evidence to jurors.”

Judge Glenn Grant, the acting administrative director of the New Jersey Courts, said that the judiciary has recently purchased 2,000 new devices to allow jurors to participate remotely who don’t have access to technology.

Lewis Kelly said that confidential attorney-client communications may be supported by partial plexiglass dividers and earbuds.

“We will engage attorneys and parties in a walk- through in advance of any trial, so that all participants have accurate expectation,” she said.

Resuming Jury Trials 7-22-20
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