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Jury trials to resume in Nacogdoches County in November

Courtroom
Courtroom((Source: KTRE))
Published: Oct. 7, 2021 at 3:08 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 7, 2021 at 5:51 PM CDT
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NACOGDOCHES, Texas (KTRE) - Increasingly, courts are conducting face-to-face proceedings, despite COVID-19 risks. In Nacogdoches, they’re limited to hearings and pleas, but soon jury trials may return.

Court administrator Dorlisa Patton Hayter walks from the main Nacogdoches County courthouse to the courthouse annex at least three times a week to do her job.

Call it a pandemic necessity.

“We have a makeshift courtroom, if you will. And we have to do this in county court law because our courtroom is not as large as the district courtrooms,” said Patton Hayter while walking through a room at least three times larger than the regular courtroom.

County Court at Law judge Jack Sinz knows his courtroom is adequate for hearings with just a few people, but not for large crowds during a pandemic.

“This courtroom with these pews that are fastened to the floor and if someone needs to get up they probably have to touch the person sitting next to them.”

Court proceedings that are held in the annex room are like what’s held in the courthouse courtroom.

People pass through the security system and then they take a seat out in the audience with chairs sitting about six feet apart. The judge is up front with gavel in hand.

At least 200 cases a day are heard. Pleas are reducing a much over-loaded docket.

“I will say the wheel of justice is rolling again,” smiled Patton Hayter.

But perhaps not fast enough to clear out an overcrowded jail.

Nacogdoches County Sheriff Jason Bridges said, “It’s going to take trials to kick back up to really start clearing it ‘cause, you know, the deal about it is if, you know, if you have a major case pending, you’re probably just going to wait it out. And that’s what some of them, I think, are doing.”

Thursday, Nacogdoches County judges decided to move forward with jury selection for November and December.

A similar attempt was made in mid-July. A spike in COVID-19 cases led to a cancellation. Judges say if the numbers start rising this time, jury selection will have to be postponed again.

Court administrators in Angelina County say a ‘wait and see’ approach is being used before jury trials resume. Prior attempts have been canceled.

However, court hearings and pleas have been taking place for about six weeks with success.

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