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Rockingham County Circuit Court approved to resume jury trials

Published: Feb. 23, 2021 at 8:22 PM EST
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - Since the start of the pandemic, jury trials have stopped in circuit courts across the commonwealth but last week the Supreme Court of Virginia approved many courts to resume jury trials including the Rockingham County Circuit Court.

A 20-page document sent by the court was the ticket to making sure justice is still followed through in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.

Chaz Haywood, the Clerk of Court for Rockingham County, said members of the court worked over the year to create a plan to maintain the safety and security of jury members while making sure those who are waiting for their day in court are heard.

“We had to get to a point where their cases are being heard not to mention the other side we hear about the victim who are out there who are certainly waiting as well to have those accused of committing crimes against them,” Haywood said.

According to the plan, a lot of things will look different than before the pandemic.

Jurors will be more spread out across Courtroom-A out of the normally used jury box. While Courtoom-B and Courtroom-C will be used during trials as jury deliberation rooms.

As a part of the plan more space was needed to operate jury trials, so the Court Square Theater which stopped its live performances last year will serve as a hub for potential jurors to meet the morning the jury panel is selected.

“We will begin to use that space on jury days, in the morning hours as a kind of a landing spot for jurors to come to and we will just rotate these small groups through the courthouse,” Haywood said.

The Rockingham County Administration Center will also be used as space for the public to watch and sit in on jury trials as they’re happening. Haywood said the likely space that will be used is the Rockingham County Fire and Rescue training classroom.

A Rockingham County Sherriff’s Deputy will be present at each off-location site. Some family members with the victim and members of the media will still be allowed inside the courtroom and will sit in the former Voir Dire Jury Box.

According to the plan, back-up jurors will play an even more important role than pre-pandemic in making sure the trials continue in case a member of the jury becomes sick.

Haywood said each trial will have a backup judge assigned as well in case they become sick. He said sanitization will constantly happen as soon as someone leaves a space.

A number of social distancing measures and signage have also taken place within the courthouse and the ventilation system has been updated in the 125-year-old building.

“The court has done an amazing job just leading the charge on this we’re just ready to get going because people have a right to justice,” Haywood said.

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