When the COVID-19 pandemic shut Texas down in March, just about everything to a grinding halt, even our local courts, but now the scales of justice are beginning to balance out.
Nueces County picked a grand jury Friday morning. While that sounds normal, this was the first one picked since before the pandemic, and the process was far from normal.
Nearly everything about picking this grand jury was different, from the location, inside the Central Jury Room, to the fact that more potential grand jurors were called than usual, and most appeared remotely, via Zoom.
“It went very well,” said Rebecca Gonzales, one of many who chose the remote option.
Though her experience wasn’t perfect.
“I got kind of scared at the beginning,” said Gonzales. “I couldn’t get into the chat room, I thought ‘oh no, they’re going to come for me.’”
Gonzales made it in, along with about 75 others. The initial call started was more than 300, higher than normal. About two-thirds were excused before Friday. Of the roughly 90 remaining, only about 15 showed up at the courthouse.
“We want people to feel safe,” said 347th District Court Judge Missy Medary. “The whole room has been disinfected, we’ve got masks, we’ve got gloves, we’ve got everything anybody needs.”
Safety isn’t why Gonzales chose to go remote, she just wanted a little extra sleep.
“I could have gone to the courthouse, no problem, but that extra 5-10 minutes felt very good,” said Gonzales.
Medary says she would have preferred everyone appear remotely. She also understands that for some, Zoom simply isn’t an option.
“If my mom was called for grand jury, she’d have a difficult time with Zoom, so she has the option as all our citizens do, to be able to come in-person if they wish,” said Medary.
Whatever it takes to keep the wheels of justice moving.
“Unfortunately in this pandemic, justice does not stop, the jail doesn’t stop, and the offenses don’t stop,” said Medary. “By empaneling this grand jury, we can keep that train on the tracks.”
Twelve grand jurors and four alternates were picked. They'll now meet every other week until the end of the year. It's a shorter term than normal, because the previous grand jury was asked to stay on out of safety concerns.