CINCINNATI — The Hamilton County Courthouse is starting to get back to the business of giving people their day in court.
Some COVID-19 restrictions were lifted this week, and trials will resume on July 13. But things won’t look the same for jurors, defendants or anyone who steps inside a courtroom.
“What we’ve been able to come up with is a creative idea that I think will ensure safety of jurors and the public at large and allow for people to have their day in court,” said Hamilton County Presiding Judge Charles Kubicki.
Kubicki said he’s been working on developing reopening plans since the pandemic forced courts to close in March. He said he’s determined to let people exercise their constitutional rights to a trial.
Some of the changes include a limited number of courtrooms available for open jury trials, newly installed plexiglass that separates jurors and a mask requirement for everyone except witnesses.
Some of the most significant changes will affect jury selection. Before the pandemic, attorneys had a pool of hundreds of people to choose from every day for a potential jury. Under the new plan, there will only be 30 to 35 to choose from.
“What we won’t let you do is look at the actual jury first and decide, 'You know what? I don’t like the way this jury looks, so I’m going to go ahead and get rid of that,' ” Kubicki said. “We need your help because we are looking for good jurors to serve.”
However, if a defendant doesn’t like those odds, there is an option to waive the right to a speedy trial. Potential jurors will have options, too. Kubicki said if someone gets a jury summons in the mail and doesn’t feel comfortable, they can call the jury commissioner. But he said he hopes that the safety measures put in place will encourage people to come to the courthouse and serve.
“With the COVID virus I could see how someone could have daycare issues; I could see how if you’re an older person or at risk he might opt out.” Kubicki said. “The point is that if you are a litigant and you want to go to trial and have your day in court, we are making accommodations.”
Those accommodations are part of an overall operating plan that was approved by Hamilton County Interim Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman. The restrictions may mean that fewer trials happen at once, but the justice system will still be up and running.
“The courts are an important part of our government system here in Hamilton County,” Kesterman said. "I was so impressed with the way they were creating and setting things up to make sure they were opening safely.”