Jury Trials Resume Monday In Cuyahoga County

Administrative Judge Brendan Sheehan in a courtroom
Administrative and Presiding Judge Brendan Sheehan laid out a plan for reopening the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court in May and later added Plexiglas partitions, plus the use of the nearby Global Center for Health Innovation for more space as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. [Matthew Richmond / ideastream]
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Jury trials are scheduled to resume in Cuyahoga County on Sept. 21.

In addition to requiring social distancing and masks, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court has installed Plexiglas partitions in the three courtrooms holding criminal trials.

Jury selection and civil trials will be across the street at the spacious Global Center for Health Innovation to facilitate social distancing as the coronavirus pandeimc continues. Those who are selected as jurors will wear masks and face shields and more partitions have been installed in the jury box, between the defense attorney and their client and in front of the judge.

Trials were originally scheduled to restart in August, but Administrative and Presiding Judge Brendan Sheehan said COVID-19 was spreading too fast in the Cleveland area at that time.

“We could have started trying cases in August and if we did that we would have shut down the whole process,” Sheehan said. “Because if one juror got sick or one panel member got sick, that would have shut down the way we had everything set up.”

Those coming to court will have to be patient, Sheehan said – staff will be conducting health checks at the front door. And everyone has to register their destination before lining up at the elevator, which will only carry two people at a time.

The court put together a video walking people through the process for entering the court, and a call-in process has been set up to limit the pool of prospective jurors coming Downtown but, according to Sheehan, the court can no longer postpone in-person jury trials.

“We’re struggling with families of victims. We’re struggling with families of defendants. We’re struggling with a system that has just been backlogged because we haven’t been able to hold trials,” Sheehan said. “And if the experts tell us, ‘Hey Sheehan, this isn’t working,’ we’ll go back to the drawing board and start over.”

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