COVID puts jury trials on hold in Sarasota, Manatee, DeSoto counties

Published: Aug. 26, 2021 at 2:19 PM EDT
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SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - Concerns over the rising COVID positivity rates on the Suncoast have prompted the 12th Circuit Court to temporarily suspend jury trials as of Aug. 30.

In the administrative order issued Aug. 25, 12th Circuit Chief Judge Charles Roberts cites the alarming upward trend in positive COVID-19 cases within the circuit, which includes Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties. Jury trials are being suspended in order to limit the number of people in each courthouse.

Roberts reimposed face mask requirements July 30 for all people in public areas of the courthouses. This requirement remains in place.

“The health, safety, and well-being of courthouse visitors, jurors, court employees, and judicial officers are a high priority, and we must continue to take steps to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on the courts, its participants, and the general public, while fulfilling the court system’s responsibilities for the administration of justice,” according to the order.

Roberts’ decision is based on the new case positivity rates reflected on the Florida Department of Health’s website and the CDC’s determination that the level of community transmission in all three counties is high.

For the most recent reporting period preceding this order, August 13-19, 2021, the Florida Department of Health showed positivity rates in the circuit as follows: 24.2% in DeSoto County; 19.4% in Manatee County; and 18.6% in Sarasota County.

“When COVID-19 restrictions were reduced in June following promising health data showing significantly lower infection rates, a large number of people, including prospective jurors (often numbering in the hundreds) returned to the courthouses. However, due to the marked escalation in COVID-19 cases in all three counties within the circuit, it has become necessary once again to temporarily suspend jury trials …,” the order said.

“Compelling so many people from the community to report for jury duty and then placing them together in jury assembly rooms or courtrooms for extended periods of time creates too great a risk of COVID-19 exposure and cannot continue under current pandemic conditions,” the order said.

The court will continue to monitor data conditions and will give a minimum of two weeks’ notice when it determines when jury trials can safely resume.

If people who have business in the courthouses are sick, they should not enter the building and should call Court Administration at one of the following locations:

  • DeSoto County: 863-993-4644
  • Manatee County: 941-749-3655
  • Sarasota County: 941-861-7800

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