Gregg County Courthouse removes mask requirement
LONGVIEW, Texas (KLTV) - With masks now optional at the Gregg County Courthouse, rules in the courtroom have also changed since jury trials are being heard.
However, some of the changes made during the COVID-19 pandemic may become permanent.
The caseload is still heavy, but 124th District Judge Alfonso Charles says since Governor Greg Abbott lifted the mask mandate, they have done the same in the courtroom.
“Parties who want to wear a mask they still may, but they do not have to,” Charles said.
He says at this point they’re still not putting all the jurors in the jury box.
“In the past trials, we’ve only had about four in the jury box and more in the audience. So this time we have six in the jury box and then the rest of the jury is in the first two rows of one of the sides of my audience,” Charles said.
No one asks anyone who enters the courtroom if they have been vaccinated.
“We have not asked any of those questions, but we do make sure that the jury is comfortable with what we are doing,” Charles said.
The public is allowed to watch trials in person.
“Right now I’m still operating on the capacity of about 23 or 24 in my courtroom,” Charles said.
Microphones still have disposable covers, and there are changes that may not change back, like remote hearings.
“We are still using it for the vast majority of our guilty pleas for individuals who are in jail and for our bond settings. That is, first of all much more convenient; secondly, it is safer,” Charles said.
He says inmates no longer need to be escorted from jail to the courthouse. And it was recently advantageous for an out-of-town lawyer.
“It would have made very little sense to make that lawyer drive five hours for a fifteen-minute hearing,” Charles said.
Charles said it’s not there yet, but it is beginning to feel more normal.
“It’s nice to be able to do things in our own courtroom or at least in our own courthouse,” Charles said.
Judge Charles said the Plexiglas dividers will remain in place for now and is hopeful they can go back to regular capacity sometime in the near future.
Copyright 2021 KLTV. All rights reserved.