Montgomery Circuit Court will not conduct any jury trials until at least the second half of 2021, Judge Harry Siamas said.
The Indiana Supreme Court handed down an order earlier this week suspending in-person jury trials statewide until March 1 due to the surge in COVID-19 cases.
In the order, the justices said the threat of exposure to the coronavirus from in-court proceedings is high, even when safety protocols are strictly followed.
“We must take drastic measures we hoped would not be necessary,” read the order, signed by Chief Justice Loretta Rush.
Judges were already following the court’s order to minimize non-essential in-person proceedings where remote hearings could be held instead.
Circuit court bench trials are being conducted by telephone in most cases, Siamas said. The court remains open to the public and visitors must wear appropriate face coverings and practice social distancing in the courtroom.
In Montgomery Superior Court 1, where jury trials are held less regularly than some other courts, all hearings have been moved to Zoom and public hearings are being live streamed on the state’s website.
The court has also made changes to case management hearings to mitigate COVID-related restrictions.
“While suspending jury trials may ultimately clog the docket to a degree, it is the obligation of the courts to abide by the directives of the Governor and to protect against the spread of COVID-19, Superior Court 1 Judge Heather Barajas said.
The Supreme Court has also given local judges the authority to extend or reschedule non-essential hearings and issue summons instead of bench warrants or notices of failure to appear.
Staff in Montgomery Superior Court 2 was working remotely due to quarantine requirements and staffing issues. A message directed clients to check the status of their case on the state’s online case database.