Cowlitz County Superior Court plans to start holding livestreamed “virtual court” by Monday and resume in-person criminal jury trials by mid-July, according to a Friday press release.
However, jury trials will be held at the Cowlitz County Event Center, because current court facilities do not allow enough space for proper socially distancing. To properly socially distance 100 potential jurors, the court needs roughly 3,600 square feet, according to a press release.
Right now, the court is in its “Phase 1” of operations and planning, which means all hearings, with few exceptions, are conducted by telephone or CourtCall. But by Monday, the court plans to have all hearings conducted by Zoom, the press release said, and streamed to YouTube for the public.
“When COVID-19 began impacting our community, the Court ramped down normal operations in a few short days. ... We know this has been very difficult for you,” the press release said. “Everything we have done has been focused on making sure you are safe and our staff are safe. We share your frustration but are optimistic about the way forward and want to share the current status of court operations.”
“Phase 2,” which should start in mid-to-late June, includes holding a small number of mostly virtual trials and some in-person hearings.
“We will limit the number of people in courtrooms, require those in the court facilities and courtrooms to socially distance, wear masks, and use hand sanitizer,” the press release said. “We are also implementing enhanced cleaning regiments.”
By mid-July, the court plans to enter “Phase 3,” which includes criminal jury trials at the Cowlitz County Event Center, and then start planning for “Phase 4” by the end of July. However, that final phase is resuming normal, in-person court operations, so “we do not expect this to be for some time,” the press release said, as social distancing requirements could run into 2021.
The court thanked the citizens of Cowlitz County for their patience and flexibility and a dozen agencies for their collaboration, including the Board of Commissioners, the Incident Management Team, the Health Department, the Sheriff’s Office and the jail.
“Since March of this year, we have had the privilege of working with many agencies and stakeholders who have committed many hours to court planning efforts,” the press release said. “We are so fortunate to work in a community where people are committed to working together.”
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