The Dane County Circuit Court plans to resume jury trials on June 1.
Chief Judge Thomas Vale of Wisconsin’s Fifth Administrative District approved the county’s operational plan on Friday.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court suspended all civil and criminal jury trials in March 2020. In May, it ordered circuit courts to submit operational plans for approval before they could resume in-person proceedings and jury trials.
Dane County’s operational plan for in-person proceedings was approved in September, followed by the approval on Friday of a plan putting forward safety procedures for jury trials.
The operational plan said the court will consider time-limit cases, incarcerated defendants, victim matters, the severity of offenses, public safety and case age when assigning criminal cases for jury trial. Dane County will limit the number of jury trials starting on the same day to manage how many people were coming into the courthouse. Only one jury pool will be summoned at a time.
The courtrooms on each floor may be used for jury trials with up to 14 people, but the courts are discouraged from conducting two trials on the same floor. The larger jury-deliberation room on each floor will be used for any trial on that floor, regardless of the courtroom.
In June and July, a judge in a criminal rotation will stack a maximum of three cases behind the case listed on the master calendar for each week the judge is assigned jury selection. Counsel are responsible for telling the courts of any conflicts. Every case scheduled for jury trial will have a last pretrial no later than the Monday of the week preceding the scheduled jury selection date. Attorneys, litigants and witnesses in each stacked case must be prepared for trial the following week. The operational plan directs courts to conduct trials expeditiously and with minimal delays.
All people in courtrooms, jury rooms and other court-related confined spaces have to wear face coverings, with the exception of witnesses giving testimony. Judges may make exceptions on the record in order to weigh witness credibility.
The operational plan said the court will continue to hold remote appearances when possible and live-stream hearings. Court-commissioner, small-claims and duty-week hearings will be held remotely. If duty judges believe in-person hearings are necessary, they must stagger the proceedings to allow for social distancing in the courtroom.
Anyone who is considered part of a vulnerable population will be allowed to appear by video or phone. The court has established capacity limits for the gallery of each courtroom and marked the rooms to identify proper social distancing. The counsel tables, witness stand, judge’s bench, and seating for the clerk, court reporter and bailiff are arranged with at least six feet between each station or with Plexiglass barriers in place.