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Milwaukee County courts resume jury trials with COVID-19 precautions

Milwaukee County courts resume jury trials with COVID-19 precautions

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Milwaukee County Circuit Court has resumed jury trials with precautions in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

First Judicial District Chief Judge Mary Triggiano approved operational plans for a phased resumption of jury trials, allowing judges to start hearing jury trials on July 20.

The plan’s first phase allows judges to schedule jury trials on Mondays and Tuesdays each week using two courtrooms.

Photo of Bench and witness stand set up for phased resumption of jury trials in Milwaukee County
A judges’ bench and witness stand is set up for phased resumption of jury trials in Milwaukee County. (Photos courtesy of the 1st Judicial District of Wisconsin COVID-19 Courts Operating Policies Procedures and Plan for Resuming Jury Trials, July 20, 2020)

Courthouse Room 608-Criminal Division and Safety Building 620-Criminal Division will be used for Phase 1 jury trials. Room 608 will use 500-Courthouse for voir dire and 608-Courthouse as the deliberation room. Safety Building 620 will use the 620-Safety Building gallery for voir dire and 506-Safety Building as a deliberation room.

According to operational plans imposed when the court first resumed in-person proceedings on June 29, anyone in the building must wear a face mask at all times. There are a few health-related exceptions to the mandate, and judges are allowed to make exceptions in their courtrooms.

The court’s operational plan for resuming jury trials details the following protocols that went into effect on July 20:

Scheduling jury trials

Photo of Counsel table set up for phased resumption of jury trials in Milwaukee County
Counsel table set up for phased resumption of jury trials in Milwaukee County.

Cases will be scheduled for jury trial on Monday or Tuesday each week at 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Trials involving defendants who are in custody and have made a demand for a speedy trial or prompt disposition will receive priority.

Assistant district attorneys and defense counsel can assess the trial readiness of each pending case using the Milwaukee County Expedited Speedy Trial Request form, which should be signed by both counsel and filed with the court prior to scheduling.

All cases scheduled for jury trial shall have a final pretrial the Thursday before the scheduled trial date.

A multidisciplinary team has already selected jury trials scheduled for the weeks of July 20, July 27 and Aug. 3 to test the process.

Summoning jurors

Part of the recovery plan calls for informing the public about precautions the court and county are taking to protect jurors’ health and safety. A letter that will be included with all jury summons outlines the pre-screening, physical distancing, masking and cleaning policies in place at the courthouse.

The court modified the summoning process to mitigate risk of spreading COVID-19. Jurors will now be summoned to appear at 8 a.m. and 1 p.m., or at other times as directed by the court. The jury assembly room has been moved to Room 307 of the courthouse, which can accommodate 99 jurors while maintaining six-foot spacing.

Potential jurors have been summoned in reserve status. The summons instructs them that they may have to report for jury duty and encourages them to complete a jury qualification questionnaire online.

Up to 99 jurors will be required to report for service. Jurors who report on Monday morning will be identified and notified the Friday before the scheduled trial date.

Juror excuse and deferral policy

Jurors will be excused if they:

  1. Have had contact with COVID-19 positive individuals.
  2. Are considered at a high risk of contracting COVID-19.
  3. Are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, are COVID-19 positive, are self-quarantining due to exposure or feel sick on the date they are called to report for service are not to report for service.
  4. Respond “yes” to any questions on a specifically provided health-screening questionnaire.

Jurors should call jury management at 414-278-4469 or send an email to [email protected] if any of the above situations apply.

Juror check-in and assembly

Juror check-in will be a no-contact process. Jurors will check in by having the bar code on their summons scanned. Plexiglass has been placed in the check-in area to establish a physical barrier between jurors and jury management personnel.

Jury management will verify that each juror has completed the health-screening questionnaire before check-in. Jurors who have not completed the health screening questionnaire will be provided with an iPad to do so. The iPad will be disinfected after each use.

Jurors may be subject to having their temperature taken at check-in. Juror badges will be provided to all jurors when they check-in.

Jury assembly seating has been configured to provide for physical distancing. Jurors will be asked to remain in the same seat for the entire time they are in the jury assembly area. The jury assembly area will be cleaned and disinfected daily, between jury panels, and high-touch areas will be disinfected throughout the day. Hand sanitizer is on offer to jurors at check-in and throughout the jury-assembly area.

Juror-completion letters will be mailed to jurors upon the completion of service.

Juror provisions

Face masks will be provided to jurors. The masks must be worn properly and must cover both the mouth and nose. Masks must be worn in the courtroom. A judge may allow mask removal, but only after making a record of the reasons for the decision.

Water will be provided to jurors. They are advised to bring non-perishable food items or an insulated lunch box. There are no vending machine options, and the courthouse cafeteria is closed. It may re-open soon for limited food service.

Voir dire and empaneled jurors

Photo of Voir dire area set up for phased resumption of jury trials in Milwaukee County
A voir dire area set up for phased resumption of jury trials in Milwaukee County.

Jury panels sent to voir dire will be limited to 30 jurors. Panels will be announced and assembled to
maintain six-foot physical distancing. Floor markings have been placed to indicate proper

Once selected to serve on a jury, jurors will report directly to the courtroom each day as directed by a judge. Jurors will be instructed to monitor their health daily and to not report for service if they feel ill.

Before reporting for service each day, jurors must complete the health screening questionnaire. Jurors who feel ill or answer “yes” to any health screening questions must immediately contact the court.

Jury deliberation rooms have been configured to provide six-foot physical distancing. Once a juror selects a seat in a deliberation room, the seat will remain the juror’s until the jury panel is released by the judge at the conclusion of the trial. Judges should remind jurors that masks must be worn at all times in the deliberation room. Upon completion of their service, jurors will be released and sent home.

Photo of Jury deliberation room set up for phased resumption of jury trials in Milwaukee County
Jury deliberation room set up for phased resumption of jury trials in Milwaukee County.

Health protocols

Judges and court staff are required to wear face masks at all times in court buildings, courtrooms, jury rooms and other court-related spaces. Judges can modify the face-mask requirement in the courtroom, but only after they make a record of the reasons for the decision. Judges and court staff will also practice physical distancing and appropriate hand washing as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.

Judges, court staff and lawyers will follow the cleaning and disinfecting protocols for their respective work areas as directed in the court’s earlier operational plan.

People who are not from the same household must stay six feet apart while in the court building and courtroom. Hand sanitizer and disinfectant spray will be located around the courthouse.


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