Payson Courts  courtroom

Courtrooms across the state remain more empty than full with the suspension of jury trials until April 17 and other measures designed to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Doug Ducey’s COVID-19 emergency declaration in mid-March prompted the courts to alter the way it operates.

Jury trials have been delayed until April 17. Staff is being told to avoid in-person proceedings “to the greatest extent” possible within “core constitutional rights.”

Courtroom attendance is limited to parties in a case.

And judges are being told to grant continuances as needed.

In Gila County, Court Administrator Jonathan Bearup said the impact of the pandemic “is almost paralyzing.”

“We’re trying to allow for safe social distancing while still executing court business,” he said. “Every half hour, I have a phone call from the public.”

Residents want to know if they can still come in to the courthouse on Main Street.

“Right now (as of March 24) all of our lobbies are open,” said Bearup. “With the lobby in the Payson court, there is a restriction of only five people at a time in the lobby.”

What cases are judges hearing?

“That is on a case-by-case basis,” he said. “Right now, the judges are being pretty selective. Trying to balance justice with public safety.”

Bearup said a statewide “shelter in place” order would require additional restrictions.

“If we had that kind of directive, we would have to look at alternative methods,” he said.

Video conferencing would play a key role. In fact, the health crisis has ramped up the use of that technology in Gila County courts.

“We have refined video conferencing in all of the courtrooms,” said Bearup.

The Gila County courts plan to post more information on its page as things change, www.gilacountyaz.gov.

Contact the reporter at mnelson@payson.com

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