Guest Commentary: Jury trials resume
In March, the Florida Supreme Court suspended jury trials throughout the state due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past several months, new CDC-recommended safety guidelines were implemented to protect you while at the courthouse.
With your health and well-being in mind, temperature checks are now administered upon entry, and face coverings are required while inside the building. Common areas are continuously cleaned, hand sanitizer stations are located throughout the building, and social distancing is enforced.
To ensure our citizens are able to continue seeking justice, Chief Justice Charles Canady recently issued an amendment to Administrative Order 20-23. The order outlines how and when jury trials may safely proceed in each county. With our new measures in place, the Florida Supreme Court has determined that jury trials may resume in Lee County. In response, 20th Circuit Chief Judge Michael T. McHugh has directed the Lee Clerk of Courts to begin reissuing juror summons for trials scheduled to begin on Sept. 14.
If you are selected to serve as juror, please be assured that your health and well-being remain our first priority. Jurors will be processed efficiently with all social distancing requirements being followed throughout their service.
To reduce interactions and handling of paper between jurors and Deputy Clerks, we recommend jurors sign-up to receive courtesy text and email reminders. Jurors can also check in by scanning the barcode on their summons at a kiosk when reporting.
While these measures are very comprehensive, we also understand some citizens may be unable to serve because they have been directly impacted by COVID-19. You may be excused from jury duty if you do not meet the court’s screening requirements upon entry, are a person at higher risk for severe illness due to COVID-19 infection, must care for a child or relative whose regular care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19, or are receiving leave pursuant to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
In addition, potential jurors may postpone service for up to six months if they have recently returned to work after being unemployed due to COVID-19 or have suffered a financial or personal loss due to COVID-19 that makes it a hardship to perform jury service.
Yet even as we focus on the safety and security of our jurors, we are equally focused on the duty of the Justice System to be able to provide the constitutional right to a jury trial for our citizens. A recent report from the Trial Court Budget Commission estimates 1,180 criminal and civil jury trials have been delayed statewide since March. Lee County alone held close to 300 jury trials last year. Using this historical reference, our current backlog would be about 150 jury trials so far and building. We are ready to get started, safely and securely.
And let me be the first to say a very sincere thank you to those folks in our community who receive a summons and are able and willing to serve as a juror. Serving your country as a juror is a duty and a service for which you can be very proud. It is an essential part of our freedoms in this great country, the United States of America.
If you have any questions regarding jury duty in Lee County, please visit LeeClerk.org/jury or call 239-533-2929.
Thank you and stay healthy.
— Linda Doggett,
Lee County Clerk of Courts