ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The Second Judicial District Court in Bernalillo County announced Friday they will be resuming jury trials on July 14.
Chief Judge Stan Whitaker says they are taking the proper precautions to keep everyone safe. “We will follow safety practices developed by public health authorities and implement operating procedures and precautions designed to further enhance the safety of the courtroom environment,” Whitaker said in a statement.
Before potential jurors even step foot into the courthouse, they will be sent a questionnaire several days beforehand to make sure they haven’t been exposed to the virus. “If there’s any reason why someone shouldn’t be called in, we can whittle down the number of people who actually come in to the jury selection process,” says Sidney Hill, a spokesperson with District Court.
Six jurors will sit in the juror box and will be placed six feet apart. The other half will sit in the gallery, where the public normally sits, and will also be six feet apart.
Cleaning supplies will be placed throughout the courtroom, and people will be asked to wipe down their area once they leave. It’s been months since jury trials have taken place here, but a District Court spokesperson maintains they are not behind schedule because other court hearings have been able to continue. “There isn’t a huge backlog in terms of trials, but we do have to get trials moving again,” says Hill.
Plexi-glass will also be separating witnesses from the judge. Attorneys and their clients are also going to be seated apart with head phones so they can communicate during the trial.
Everyone entering the courthouse will have their temperature screened and masks are required for everyone. The entire courthouse will also be cleaned every morning and night to ensure everyone’s safety.
The Second Judicial District Court’s safety protocols include:
- Masks are required for anyone entering a courthouse. Jurors, lawyers, witnesses, judges, court staff, and other parties will be required to wear masks at all times.
- Temperature checks and health screening questions of people who enter a courthouse to ensure they do not have COVID-19 symptoms or have traveled outside of New Mexico or outside the United States.
- Enforcement of proper physical distancing – a minimum of six feet separating people in courtrooms, jury assembly rooms, and other courthouse locations.
- Pubilc areas in courthouses have floor decals providing visual aids for maintaining social distancing.
- Frequent cleaning and disinfecting in court buildings, particularly high-touch surfaces such as doors, kiosks, chairs, and handrails.
- Protective clear plastic dividers in areas with limited spacing, including at the witness stand and judge’s bench in some courtrooms.
- Tables at which attorneys and clients sit are arranged to allow a minimum of six feet of separation between individuals. Courtrooms will be equipped with electronic headsets to enable attorneys to have private conversations with their clients while maintaining proper social distancing.
- Jurors will receive wellness kits with hand sanitizer, cloth masks, a pen, and a notepad. Hand sanitizer is available to the public throughout courthouses and will be at attorney tables and the witness stands in courtrooms.
- During jury selection, prospective jurors will be assembled in a manner that promotes proper social distancing.
- Once selected for trial, jurors will be placed in assigned seats in both the jury box and the courtroom gallery to maintain at least six-foot spacing.
- Public seating in courtrooms will be limited to ensure proper social distancing. There will be seating for the public in other rooms of the courthouse from which the trial can be viewed on a television screen.
- Courtrooms will be cleaned between every hearing in which different parties appear in person.
State courts have remained open during the public health emergency with public health precautions ordered by the Supreme Court to help control the spread of COVID-19. The above protocols for resuming trials in the Second Judicial District Court apply to both the court’s downtown location at 400 Lomas NW and the Children’s Division courthouse at 5100 Second Street NW.
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