GREEN COVE SPRINGS – For the first time in Clay County history, the jury duty qualification process required to seat a jury for an in-person trial was conducted remotely. First, 400 residents were …
GREEN COVE SPRINGS – For the first time in Clay County history, the jury duty qualification process required to seat a jury for an in-person trial was conducted remotely. First, 400 residents were mailed jury duty summons two weeks ago and were directed to respond on Friday, March 5, for qualification using their computers or smart phones. The results were impressive.
After logging in early that morning via the Zoom platform, an initial large group of 342 was reduced to 100. Those citizens waited online until dismissed or moved into smaller groups for questioning by Clay County Judge Timothy Collins. Screen by screen, involved clerks moved citizens into Judge Collins’ remote view where he ran through the required questioning, excusing from jury duty those he felt could not participate further for a wide variety of reasons.
This included advanced age, child care issues, health concerns or essential professions such as medical, military or teaching. The judge’s portion of the process took about two hours and successfully resulted in a confirmed jury pool of 36 citizens. Judge Collins expressed positive feedback and gratitude to them all.
The next successful step in the process took place when the qualified jury pool members appeared the following Monday at the Clay County Courthouse for in-person jury selection. That process went smoothly and a jury of seven citizens – six jurors and one alternate – were chosen and directed to return later that week for the start of an aggravated assault trial. That case was settled between the prosecution and defense, so a trial was not needed. However, the week served as an excellent “trial run” and shows that Clay County citizens are ready to return to some level of post-COVID normalcy, including the need to appear – both online and in-person - when civic duty is required. This was the first time since COVID-19 restrictions began in March 2020 a jury was seated in the county.
A similar online jury duty qualification process was again conducted on Friday, March 12. As a result, a pool of 35 prospective jurors will return in-person on Thursday so Circuit Judge Don Lester can oversee the in-person jury selection (six jurors and one alternate) for a felony jury trial scheduled to begin that same afternoon. If no plea agreement or continuation takes place, this will be the first in-person jury trial held in our county in one year.
Clerk’s Office personnel, in partnership with judiciary, attorneys and law enforcement, are ready to continue these remote/in-person combination services so the court system can function even more efficiently going forward. All personnel involved in this successful restart of jury trials in our county pay special attention to health and safety requirements that remain part of COVID-19 Phase II.
“As part of our state’s Safe Steps initiative, precautions still include regular courthouse cleaning, social distancing, mask wearing, hand washing and more,” said Clay County Clerk of Court and Comptroller Tara S. Green. “We are so pleased to work with our judiciary, county staff and courthouse law enforcement officials to get in-person jury trials up and running safely again for our citizens.”
The clerk’s office encourages everyone to view this brief video to learn more about the safe steps taken in our court system as in-person services, including jury trials, resume: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=doX4Sp9Fyxo&list=PLpgaUpYpkN0XZmIfCMLqNPGD24ihZ_GHM.