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Jury trials slowly resuming in person for Travis, Hays Counties

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, jury trials were either suspended or held virtually for more than a year.

For more than a year, civil court trials went online while criminal court trials were suspended in Travis and Hays Counties.

This month and next month, both counties are slowly reintroducing trials in person. In Travis County, a pilot program led by 201st District Court Judge Amy Clark Meachum will have a mix of in-person and virtual trials.

"We start July 12, calling some juries back to in-person procedures at [Heman Marion Sweatt] Civil and Family Court House," Meachum said. "We're going to continue our innovative virtual trial system during that time, and so we'll be running a couple of different trials and even three trials a week in jury trials."

Meachum and other judges in Travis County don't call civil case juries every week. Meachum said it's typically every other week, sometimes every three weeks. 

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Meachum, alongside Travis County Administrative District Judge Lora J. Livingston in Travis County, sent out a memo earlier this month saying social distancing and masking will still be enforced during in-person jury trials until further notice.

"We want to make signs that make sure the jurors that are called understand the safety processes and procedures we have in place so they feel safer and so we can actually keep people safer as we begin this transitional period of getting back to in-person proceeds," Meachum said.

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According to Hays County District Court Administrator Steve Thomas, their dockets are backed up with about 400 cases. Some won't make it to the courtroom as they are disposed of or dropped for one reason or another. However, Thomas added judges are taking steps to catch up.

Judge [Gary Steel], who's our local Administrative District Judge, is very concerned about the backlog, and he and some of the other judges have adjusted their schedules in order to try multiple jury weeks in a row to try and alleviate that," Thomas said.

Criminal court cases in both counties will start in July as well.

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