I’ve heard this question asked repeatedly: When will jury trials resume here in Texas?
Several counties have issued emergency orders addressing the issue. For example, Travis County’s Second Amended Emergency Order Regarding COVID-19 postpones all jury trials scheduled before August 17, 2020. In a recent Austin Bar webinar covering this order, the judges’ message was that jury trials just aren’t on the table right now and that parties should be looking to 2021 for jury settings.
Last week’s Seventeenth Emergency Order Regarding the COVID-19 State of Disaster from the Texas Supreme Court addresses jury trials on a statewide basis. The order freezes jury trials until at least August 1, 2020, except as specifically authorized.
The Supreme Court’s order provides some hope in its exceptions, which require the Office of Court Administration to assist trial courts in conducting a limited number of jury trials before August 1. When that period ends, OCA will submit a report to the Supreme Court outlining its observations and making recommendations regarding future jury proceedings.
Several other groups—including the newly-created Austin Bar Association Jury Trial Task Force—are considering how jury trials may resume safely. Those groups are expected to work closely with OCA and the judges to help bring jury trials back with some necessary procedural adjustments.
In the meantime, jury trials are on hold and will remain so for a while. As OCA Administrative Director David Slayton says, jurors need to feel safe, and we don’t have any choice but to get this right.
To hear me discuss this issue further, check out the video embedded below.