Clark County Superior Court has recognized that with the increasing surge in COVID-19 infections in our county and across the country, it is again necessary to completely suspend jury trials, both criminal and civil, until at least January 10, 2021.
The basis for last week's new Emergency Order is expressed by the Presiding Judge of the Court, the Honorable Scott Collier, as follows:
"The superior court judges met recently to reassess the risk of conducting jury trials in light of the significant increase in the activity level of the COVID-19 virus in our community and the outbreak of COVID-19 cases in our county jail. After discussion the judges have decided to … [suspend] all criminal and civil jury trials in superior court … starting today, November 25, 2020 until Monday, January 11, 2021."
The Court's General Order 20-06 [its full title being, “Clark County Superior Court Revised Emergency Order”] was originally adopted March 17, 2020. The updated December 2, 2020 version reads further, in pertinent part, as follows:
"D. All Criminal Jury Trials and Civil Jury Trials are SUSPENDED until at least January 10, 2021. Any trials currently set between November 25, 2020 to January 10, 2021 are STRICKEN and shall be rescheduled by the assigned department.
E. The Court further finds that the ends of justice served by continuing these cases outweighs the defendant's right to a speedy trial. The Court further finds that any delays for time for trial are the result of the unavoidable and unforeseen circumstances and are therefore excluded from computing time for trial by CrR 3.3(e)(8). Furthermore, the Court SUSPENDS CrR 3.3 regarding time for trial and CrR 3.4 and related local court rules requiring the presence of the defendant, effective November 25, 2020 to the next scheduled court hearing after January 11, 2021.
F. All Jury Panels are CANCELLED until at least January 8, 2021. Due to the reduced ability to obtain an adequate cross section of attentive and focused jurors, and the effect of current public health recommendations on the likely availability of witnesses, court personnel, and trial counsel to be effectively present in the courtroom, the time period of continuances by this Emergency Order will be excluded in computing time for trial pursuant to CrR 3.3(e)(3), CrR 3.3(f)(2), and related local court rules."
In addition to the postponement of all jury trials, the court continues to preclude persons exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 (including fever, persistent cough, or shortness of breath) from entering any of the courthouse buildings including the Clark County Courthouse, the Juvenile Courthouse, or the Family Law Annex. Other hearings, including civil, non-jury trials, in-custody criminal hearings, family law hearings, guardianship/probate hearings, civil motion hearings, and other court hearings continue to be held but under either remote means including video teleconferencing and telephonic methods as well as in-person if under strict social distancing and masking requirements.
The suspension of jury trials provision is particularly bad news for civil cases, such as personal injury and wrongful death claims, needing to be resolved by jury trial, given that when the Court does open its doors back up to allow jury trials to be held again, backlogged criminal cases will get top priority. With or without COVID-19, civil jury trials get bumped due to criminal cases getting priority. As the above-quoted sections of the Court's recently entered order note, a “speedy trial rule” and a similar constitutional provision apply to criminal cases. If they don't get tried on time, criminal charges must be dismissed. Courts don't want possible criminals to be able to walk free because of technicalities. There being no such civil constitutional speedy trial right, civil cases have to take a backseat sometimes to criminal cases that need to be more urgently scheduled for a jury trial. Thus, whenever juries do start being reconvened in Clark County courts to hear trials, the likelihood is that the backlogged criminal cases will have to all be tried first before civil cases can start to be heard. Also, the way the recently revised order reads, it seems evident that the Court is anticipating that the January 10, 2021 proposed end-date to the period of jury trials suspension is just a tentative one. The Court appears to recognize the fluid and troubling recent trend in the number of virus infections, and has crafted its order in a fashion that clearly isn't promising that it will necessarily be back in business for handling jury trials in Clark County beginning January 11, 2021.
In the meantime, however, as noted above, motion hearings on cases are being handled by the Court remotely, over a Zoom platform, as is much of the discovery process in the civil cases on which we are working. Schauermann Thayer continues to be not only prepared but experienced in our ability to conduct business remotely through all aspects of our clients' cases, whether through an initial consultation or through a trial before the court. It has been an interesting year for sure, and we'll continue to adapt and respond to the ongoing changes presented to our clients.
If you have particular questions about the status of your case, such as how soon it may be scheduled for jury trial, you should call and discuss your concerns with your attorney if you already have one, or call for a consult if you aren't yet represented. If you are a client of our firm, Schauermann Thayer, or even if you aren't, we always welcome such calls.