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COVID-19 safety protocols enforced as jury trials in Orange County resume amid pandemic

Orange County judges will be able to serve justice again soon, but it'll be in an unfamiliar way.

ORANGE, Texas — Many judges always imagined handling their duties inside of a courtroom. But for those on the bench in Orange County, they'll spend the next few days adjusting to a different venue designed to keep everyone safe.

Orange County judges will be able to serve justice again soon, but it'll be in an unfamiliar way.

“Since the pandemic started in March of 2020, the Texas Supreme Court basically stopped our jury trials and most of our in-person hearings,” said Orange County Judge Courtney Arkeen.

Just like many other places, the Orange County Courthouse had to rollback, too.

“So, we've had to wait until we can get permission from the state to start conducting those again,” Arkeen said.

But with court back in session, the process comes with a few curve balls. 

“When they come through the doors, they'll immediately be asked the standard COVID questions. And then jurors will walk over to this machine to get their temperature checked,” Arkeen said.

Doing things safely will allow them to resume to jury trials next week at the courthouse.

“Then they'll be offered hand sanitizer and a mask or either a face shield. They can also get gloves that we have,” Arkeen said.

Next, they'll take a walk down a hallway to get checked in with the district clerk’s office. 

“Then, they'll come inside this room and take a seat, which is spaced 6 feet apart,” Arkeen said.

So yes, there’s a new normal of how court duties are now being handled inside of the Orange County Expo Center with no close contact.

“I'm excited, but I'm also a little concerned,” Arkeen said. “That's the message that I want to get to people, that we are doing all that we can to make sure everyone is safe.” 

Putting trials on pause has caused some defendants a long stay behind bars- 450 days for some.

“We have people who are charged with crimes that could be innocent or not,” Arkeen said.

Next week will give them the opportunity to present their case. 

“We have people who are charged with other litigations that need a resolution to their case,” Arkeen said.

So, no matter how many curve balls are being thrown, it's clear that justice must move forward even in a pandemic.

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