CAMERON COUNTY, Texas — Texas courtrooms will remain without jurors until August 1st according to the Office of Court Administration.
“No jury proceedings permitted including jury selection and jury trials prior to August 1,” said Cameron County District Clerk Elvira Ortiz in a letter.
This is two months past the June 1st date Governor Greg Abbott suggested courts could re-open.
Cameron County told OCA that in-person proceedings cannot be done remotely, and the June date was not possible.
“It’s for the benefit of the public. We really don’t want for them to be exposed to anyone else that has it,” said Ortiz.
If Cameron County’s COVID-19 status remains a health concern with social distancing, the date could be pushed back again but if not and the OCA and courts can reach an arrangement to reopen, will a juror’s health be taken into consideration?
“At this point, we will present the excuse to the judge and I’m pretty sure you will be excused for that reason,” said Ortiz.
People at a higher risk for COVID-19 are 65 years and older along with chronic lung disease, heart conditions, immunocompromised, including cancer treatment and the most prevalent in Cameron County, obesity, and diabetes.
Potential jurors may have an opportunity to plead their case to temporarily be exempt from jury selection through the Jury Administrators office.
The Cameron County juror pool is one aspect to the justice conversation, being in a courtroom for days or weeks, is up the defense and the district attorney.
Luis V. Saenz, Cameron County District Attorney openly stated he would not select someone as a juror if their health is an issue.
“If that person has indicated by raising his or her hand and telling me, as a prosecutor, that he or she is rightfully concerned about being here, then that’s going to be weighing on their mind when they’re sitting there and we’re expecting to pay attention,” said Saenz.
For now, the jury trial schedule will remain backed up until the office of court administrators feels it safe to resume.