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Jury trials can resume next week, but not in Clark

The Kentucky Supreme Court said earlier this week judges could resume in-person trials starting next week, but Clark County won’t be first on the list.

Clark Circuit Judge Jean Chenault Logue, who also served as the chief regional judge for the Bluegrass region, said the Supreme Court’s order left enough leeway for local judges to make their own determinations.

“Every jurisdiction has different facilities,” she said. “Some of them have a number of rooms. Some are dying to fling the doors open.”

In March, the Kentucky Supreme Court limited proceedings to those who were in jail or emergency matters. Civil matters and many criminal cases were continued, as were grand jury proceedings.

In Clark County, the only room with enough space for in-person hearings while maintaining social distancing is the circuit courtroom. That space would be used for district court, circuit court and the grand jury, she said. Social distancing during a trial while maintaining confidentiality and privacy is its own challenge, she said.

“When we did the calculations for district and circuit, we found the only suitable space is the circuit courtroom,” Logue said. “We have a way to flow ( people) through the courthouse.”

The problems, though, are many. With multiple courts sharing one room, scheduling could be an issue. Maintaining spacing during hearings is not difficult, but trials are a different matter, she said.

“When it comes to a jury trials, there are multiple dilemmas,” Logue said.

One of those issues is keeping 10 feet of space around the judge. That limits the privacy of conversations or objections held at the bench between attorneys and out of the jury’s hearing. It would also limit the ability for an attorney and client to communicate during the trial, she said.

Jury selection would be another situation, between large groups of people and when a potential juror wants privacy when giving an answer, which is typically done in front of the judge with attorneys present as well.

“We’re trying to figure out how many people we can have in the courtroom,” Logue said. “We’d like to do it in groups of 20. (Jury selection) could take a long time.”

Finding enough jurors could be another problem, especially if you eliminate those older than 65 or with health problems which would prevent them from serving, she said.

“Public safety is a huge concern,” Logue said. “We don’t want to bring citizens in until we’re sure the county has a safe environment for them.”

Logue said she meets virtually with the other judges in Clark and Madison counties every week, and they are working through the issues and looking for solutions.

“We are watching and seeing if other people come up with ideas or if it goes up in a ball of flames,” she said. “Let’s hope not.”

About Fred Petke

Fred Petke is a reporter for The Winchester Sun. His beats include cops, courts, fire, public records, city and county government and other news. To contact Fred, email fred.petke@winchestersun.com or call 859-759-0051.

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