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Judges try to ease potential grand jurors' COVID-19 fears

Posted at 2:23 PM, Jul 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-23 00:16:23-04

Two grand juries at the Nueces County Courthouse have been in place and operating since before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

It's now time to replace them.

“They’ve done their duty," 347th District Court Judge Missy Medary said. "They’ve done six or eight months of grand-jury service. We’ve received a couple of letters from them asking (us) 'Can we move onto another grand jury?"

They'll do just that in September, but grand jury summonses already are being mailed to around 250 potential jurors.

With cases of the novel coronavirus soaring in Nueces County, Medary has a good idea of how some of those people will react.

"When they receive this jury summons, they’re going to be like ’The courts are out of their minds,’ she said.

That's why Medary, other judges, and Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzalez are offering potential jurors two options when it comes to grand jury selection.

One of them doesn't even involve them leaving their homes.

“Since Zoom is kind of the wave of the future -- all of our court hearings are being held by Zoom -- we thought, 'Why not select the next grand jury by Zoom?" she said.

Potential jurors will still have the option of showing up for jury selection in-person at the Nueces County Courthouse, but when they get there, they'll find a number of safety measures in place.

Those same measures will apply to people who get selected to be on the grand juries. They include mandatory mask-wearing, socially distanced seating, and twice-daily courtroom disinfection.

They're actually the conditions grand juries have experienced since the pandemic began as they provided their essential step in the legal process.

"Our grand-jury members have been seated with 6-(feet) of social distancing, wearing masks, still looking at evidence presented to them to determine whether the State of Texas can go forward on a criminal case,” Gonzalez said.

The grand jury for Medary's court will be seated Sept. 11. The grand jury for the 105th District Court will be sat three days later.

On both occasions, Medary said potential jurors will be safe.

"Everyone is going to be 6-feet apart," she said. "Everyone is going to be in masks. We are going to make sure that the community is safe when they come in and do their public service.”