King County Superior Court
November 20, 2020
For Immediate ReleaseContact: Amy Roe, Communications Manager
King County Superior Court
King County Superior Court Halts In-Person Jury Trials in response to COVID-19
King County Superior Court is suspending all in-person jury trials, effective today. Superior Court leadership will regularly review rates of COVID-19 and determine whether to extend the suspension. This process is expected to continue through January 11, 2021. King County Superior Court is continuing to hold trials in civil, family law, involuntary treatment and dependency, all without juries, through video technology. In addition, King County Superior Court is now holding virtual civil jury trials, where the jurors, witnesses and parties all remain at office or home and appear on video.
In a statement, King County Superior Court Presiding Judge Jim Rogers said:
“The well-being of our jurors, litigants, and staff is our utmost concern. We are grateful for their service, and the trust they place in us. Suspending jury trials is necessary to protect their health and safety, and that of our entire community. With guidance from public health experts from the University of Washington, we will continuously monitor rates of COVID-19 and adapt our Public Health Plan accordingly. The Constitution guarantees the right to a speedy trial.
We are proud King County Superior Court has led the nation in restarting jury and bench trials in the Third Quarter of 2020, holding more jury and bench trials than any other court of its size. However, we must respond safely and flexibly as the infections are rising.”
Today’s suspension is the second time King County Superior Court has halted jury trials in response to the pandemic. In early March, King County Superior Court halted all jury trials to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, in response to a Supreme Court Order.
In July, King County Superior Court opened a “pop-up” courthouse in Bellevue’s Meydenbauer Center as part of its COVID-19 response. This additional courtroom space enabled the required physical distancing at KCSC’s downtown Seattle courthouse and the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent. It allowed jury trials to resume under a comprehensive COVID-19 safety protocol that includes enhanced air filtration, cleaning and sanitization, required masks and social distancing, and remote jury selection.
King County Superior Court also adopted technology that allows matters to be conducted remotely, via phone and video. As a result of this rapid and widespread technology adoption, King County Superior Court is well-prepared to continue providing essential justice services amid COVID-19 restrictions.
“We are far better able to respond to the pandemic now than we were ten months ago because of the all the work we have done and all we have learned,” Judge Rogers said.
Washington courts have remained open and operating throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but as with other essential services, the judicial branch has taken emergency measures to protect public safety while also maintaining public access to key justice services.
In a November 20 letter to the state’s Superior Court judges, Washington Supreme Court Chief Justice Debra Stephens said, “Consistent with existing Supreme Court orders and the court-specific public health guidance developed by the state Department of Health, every court needs to take a hard look at their local COVID-19 numbers, and modify practices as needed to reduce exposure risks and increase compliance with important health and safety practices in all court facilities.”
With a New Bellevue Location and Safeguards in Place, King County Superior Court Prepares to Resume Jury Trials
July 16, 2020
King County Superior Court has dramatically remade the administration of jury trials in response to the health risks presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Every stage of the trial process, from how jurors are selected for a trial to where they perform their deliberations, has been reviewed. The result is an operation that looks vastly different than the one familiar to people prior to the pandemic.
“Coronavirus changed everything, including how courts must operate,” said King County Superior Court Presiding Judge James E. (Jim) Rogers. “What hasn’t changed is the Constitutional right each person has to a trial by a jury of their peers. Together with public health experts, we’ve created a protocol that fulfills this right while protecting the health and safety of everyone in our community.”
Among the key changes:
- Meydenbauer Center to become temporary courthouse; free parking for all jurors To facilitate the necessary social distancing, some jury trials will be conducted at Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue. Jurors will receive free parking during their service, regardless of their assigned location.
- No more large groups Jurors will no longer report to Court locations in large jury group assemblies. Additionally, both in-person orientation and group questioning have been eliminated. Instead, prior to reporting for service, jurors will be contacted by the assigned trial judge to complete an online orientation and any case-specific questionnaires. Most jurors will participate in jury selection via a video platform such as Zoom, and some will come in person. Once a jury is selected, they will report in person for trial.
- Social distancing and facial coverings required and enforced Courtrooms have been reconfigured for social distancing. Facial coverings are required. The Court will provide facial coverings to those without them. Trials will be on staggered schedules to minimize building occupancy. Signage will direct safe use of stairways and elevators.
- Ventilation system remediations The University of Washington environmental health experts inspected the ventilation systems for each courthouse. Consistent with their written findings and where recommended, facilities management made updates and remediations to the ventilation systems in the trial spaces.
- Plexiglas barriers, similar to those found in supermarkets, have been installed at upper and lower benches in courtrooms.
- Enhanced health screenings and exemptions for jury service Anyone who is unable to serve because of a health condition, as documented by a letter from a medical provider, will be excused from service. All remaining prospective jurors will undergo a health screening in advance of reporting.
Thousands of people await the justice only juries can provide
To prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, King County Superior Court halted all jury trials in early March. Since then, thousands of cases have languished. There are now over 800 criminal and countless civil cases awaiting trial. These numbers represent thousands of individuals who have yet to have their day in court.
“Jury service, like voting, is an opportunity for people to decide what justice looks like in their community,” said Judge Rogers. “We are grateful to all who show up to do this important work, and we’ve never been more committed to their safety and well-being.”
As an essential function or business, King County Superior Court is exempted from Governor Inslee’s phased approach to re-opening. With these new safeguards in place, and after careful consultation with public health authorities, the Court is set to resume jury trials this month.