First jury trial in Calhoun County since start of the pandemic

First jury trial in Calhoun County since start of the pandemic

June 14, 2021 | Trace Christenson | Battle Creek Enquirer – For the first time in 15 months a Calhoun County judge opened courtroom doors to jurors. “I want to welcome you here to the Calhoun County Justice Center,” Chief Judge Michael Jaconette said Monday morning. “We are welcoming potential jurors back to the Justice Center for the first time since February 2020 and on behalf of the courts and the staff I want to tell you how good it is to have your folks here today.”

Jaconette was sitting in Probate Court for a civil trial for a petition for mental health treatment to determine if a man should be ordered to have treatment for mental illness.

It was the first time in any Calhoun County courtroom since the pandemic began that jurors were brought to hear a case.

The trial for the petition for mental health treatment was selected because only six jurors decide the case and court officials wanted to test procedures for bringing a jury panel to the courthouse.

Jaconette, Circuit Court Administrator Kris Getting and other judges and court officials have been working for months on a method to conduct a jury trial and maintain healthy distances and safe practices to prevent spread of the COVID-19.

Getting said 30 potential jurors called to serve Monday were directed to appear at the courthouse in 10 minute intervals, then were questioned about their health history and any symptoms, and were told to wear masks inside the building.

The 22 people who appeared were placed in two assembly rooms to allow room to maintain safe distances.

Jaconette gave opening remarks and preliminary instructions over video to the rooms were the potential jurors were seated.

Then six were called to the courtroom and questioned by the judge to determine if they would be fair and impartial and were suitable to sit as jurors.

Assistant Calhoun County Prosecutor Sage Casselman and Attorney Kent Bieberich, representing the man, participated in the courtroom and conducted the hearing after the jurors were selected.

Anytime a potential juror was dismissed, a staff member used disinfectant wipes to clean the chair before the next person was called to the seat.

Jaconette said everyone in the courtroom must wear a mask other than when they are speaking and chairs were positioned to maintain distance between the people.

Potential jurors were randomly selected and brought from the two assembly rooms to the courtroom for questioning. The six jurors were selected in 50 minutes before testimony began.

Getting said the selection process was smooth. She said a number of people who received a summons for jury duty called the county to say they were not comfortable to serve in the courthouse and she said they will be placed on a list to be summoned later.

“We are not the first county to begin trials,” she said. “And I think people are becoming more comfortable as they hear media reports about jury trials.”

A circuit court criminal trial with 12 jurors is scheduled next week and a number of capital criminal cases are scheduled for trial as procedures to conduct the trial are approved and perfected. The courthouse is scheduled to open to the public on July 6. Until all restrictions are lifted by the State of Michigan and the Michigan Supreme Court, Getting said the courts will continue the practices used Monday. “This has been something that courts across the state have been struggling with,” Jaconette told jurors. “When is the right time to bring jurors in and today is that time for us in Calhoun County and it is good to have you here participating in the system that we have.”