By Sahar Chmais
After a year of suspended jury trials due to COVID-19, Hays County District Courts will resume jury trials on June 7 and County Courts at Law will resume July 6.
With people returning to the court stands, new health precautions will be put in place.
“It is important that we ensure the health and safety of litigants, attorneys, visitors, court staff, judges and any other individual entering the buildings housing the courts,” said Judge Gary Steel, who serves as the Local Administrative District Judge.
Steel was instrumental in coordinating a safe return to court, according to Hays County.
The guidelines will not require face coverings, but will continue to follow social distancing rules, consistent with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards, Steel said. Additionally, protective protocols may be required during hearings on objections or motions related to proceedings, communication protocols and summoning jurors, he said.
If a person has tested positive for COVID-19 within the previous 30 days or currently has COVID-19, judges will require the parties to communicate that information with the court. Judges may permit witnesses to testify remotely if the individual has symptoms for COVID-19, tests positive, has been recently exposed or is vulnerable, Steel said.
People who are considered vulnerable include individuals over the age of 65 or have underlying health conditions such as high blood pressure, chronic lung disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma and a compromised immune system. If a juror meets one of more of these criteria, they may contact the District Clerk’s office at 512-393-7660 to be excused. This includes teleconferencing, hybrid teleconferencing or an in-person processing in a limited access courtroom.
Other precautions that will be taken include the limitation of physical or paper exhibits/evidence where it is reasonable to convert to digital form. Judges could also limit the passing and shared use of microphones during the jury proceedings.