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Vermont judiciary aims for March jury trial restart

Published: Jan. 26, 2021 at 5:00 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - With no jury trials since before the pandemic, Vermont judiciary officials are hoping to ease the backlog of cases by restarting the process soon, but like many court proceedings during the pandemic, it will look a lot different.

Patricia Gabel, Vermont’s court administrator, says they have developed a safe way to bring juries back. “We are able to plan for a jury to come back into our courthouse, into the courthouse, and safely hold trials,” she said.

The first cases will be held in Windham County in March. Officials have been conducting mock trials in preparation. “We realized that we needed to use three courtrooms in order to be able to socially-distance,” Gabel said.

Since the pandemic hit last March there have been no jury trials, but many court proceedings have been happening virtually. Officials say they are moving forward with jury cases to make sure Vermonters are able to have their rights honored and their cases heard safely in court, but some critics, including Defender General Matt Valerio, say March is is too soon. “Nothing has really changed significantly relative to the COVID situation,” he said.

Valerio says the system was already backlogged before the shutdown, and now there are over 300 pending trials and thousands of defendants out on conditions. “The problem is the, quote un-quote, processing that occurs by having court hearing and trials not occurring,” he said. “I think the only thing that will ultimately solve the jury trial problem is vaccination.”

Gabel says that while the judiciary is eager to get trials going again, they plan to monitor the procedures and be safe. “The fact that we have a better environment than many places in the country doesn’t mean that it changes all the safety protocols that we continue to need to follow,” she said.

She says they hope to overcome the backlog with in-person and virtual trials that will keep court cases moving. Chittenden County is expected to be the next court system to continue jury trials after Windham County.

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