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How Pima County courts are adapting to COVID-19

Many hearings by video conference
Posted at 7:04 PM, Jun 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-03 22:26:26-04

TUCSON, Ariz. - The coronavirus has slowed down or shut down so many parts of our lives. That includes the courts where it stopped jury trials and forced judges and lawyers to rethink how they work.

Pima County Superior Courts are adjusting and working to avoid a backlog.

Anyone coming into the Pima County Courthouse gets a temperature check to search for signs of infection. Video provided by Pima County shows how crews disinfect any place the virus might be. Face masks are required for anyone in the courthouse.

Virus precautions have forced a lot of change into a justice system that depends on human interaction.

Presiding Criminal Courts Judge Danelle Liwski says courts are trying to keep a backlog from building up. They can resolve many issues like settlements and sentencing by video but that’s harder to do when the judge has to resolve a dispute.

Judge Liwski says, “I don't think those play well because the defendant needs to be with his attorney, in order to have an adequate exchange of information and make sure that the attorney understands the information that defendant may have. Often also the state will have witnesses that they need to collaborate with that's more difficult to do by video.”

Jury trials stopped when virus precautions called for keeping people at least six feet away from each other. Deputy Pima County attorney Daniel South says his office is looking at ways to try to distance during jury selection but if safety still calls for wearing masks that keeps attorneys from seeing the facial expressions they use to try to determine what jurors are thinking.

“If we have everyone wearing masks, that's going to interfere with our ability as trial attorneys to see some of those mannerisms some of those reactions that are really important and getting the feeling that we're getting a fair and impartial jury.”

South and Judge Liwski think methods like video conferencing are such time savers they may continue to use them once virus precautions ease up while they work to have proceedings that must be in a courtroom stay safe and healthy.