The trial, which fell under the jurisdiction of the probate court over which Allen presides, began on Monday, April 12.
Allen was gratified to see trials begin again. “I’m very happy that we are able to provide this to our citizens and believe it will be the first of many jury trials in Tarrant County.”
The six jurors and one alternate were seated in the jury box with at least six feet between each of them. All participants in the trial must complete a COVID-19 questionnaire and have their temperatures taken, Allen told The Texan. Masks are also required, with exceptions for health reasons.
The court bailiff, Deputy Sheriff Billy Worsham, handles all of the screening. He said he’s had no issues and all the participants have been cooperative.
“I like having people in the court again,” he said.
The local administrative judge, George Gallagher, and all the Tarrant County judges are working hard to decrease the backlog that COVID-19 has caused, Allen affirmed.
Paula Morales, the Tarrant County jury bailiff, told The Texan that the biggest challenge for setting up trials has been the six-foot social distancing requirement because it significantly reduces the number of people who can be in a courtroom.
She said the central jury room that can usually hold several hundred is limited to less than a hundred now.
Her team has to work through the logistical challenges of planning the number, location, and time that jurors are called so that the COVID-19 spacing protocols are followed. They expect more trials to take place at the end of April.
In fact, Morales is helping plan a jury trial at the Will Rogers Center Memorial Center in June. Allen said the trial involves too many parties to fit in any of the traditional county courtrooms.
The Texas Supreme Court had limited in-person jury proceedings for nearly a year. On March 5, it issued its 36th Emergency Order allowing for local courts, such as district courts and probate courts, to conduct in-person proceedings as long as health protocols were adopted.
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Kim Roberts is a regional reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.