As COVID spreads, Snohomish County jury trials stopped again

Trials in District Court could resume in a month. Superior Court jury trials are on hold until 2021.

EVERETT — Jury trials in Snohomish County courts have been suspended for the second time in a year due to rising COVID-19 infections in the county, creating a backlog of criminal cases that could linger into 2024.

Presiding judges in the respective courts announced this week that District Court cases will be halted until at least Dec. 15, while Superior Court jury trials are stopped until at least Jan. 8.

In a news release Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Bruce Weiss said it was a difficult decision, but pausing jury trials is the most responsible course of action.

“Changes in behavior are needed to combat the current spike in COVID-19 cases,” Weiss wrote. “The Superior Court is not exempt from the need to take steps to push the curve down and keep people safe.”

In District Court, protection orders, compliance hearings, arraignments, traffic infraction hearings and civil proceedings will be held virtually when possible, with some hearings being held in person when video is not an option.

In March, at the onset of the pandemic in Washington, Weiss suspended all criminal and civil jury trials indefinitely. The first emergency order lasted until early July, when jury trials resumed with social distancing and other health protocols.

During Snohomish County budget proceedings last month, Weiss estimated that a backlog of Superior Court trials might take until 2024 to complete.

Kathleen Kyle, director of the county Public Defender Association, said she respects the decision, but it is disappointing. Hundreds of people sit in jail with no means for their cases to be reviewed, and many others, out of custody and awaiting trial, are also in limbo, she said.

“Suspending jury trials doesn’t reduce the risk of COVID infections for public defenders still doing the work and (for) people in jail awaiting trial,” she said.

Prosecutor Adam Cornell said he is grateful for the consideration of safety for his staff, witnesses, victims and jurors. While jury trials are delayed, Cornell said, his team will “work diligently” to settle cases when they can.

“We are going to be using the time that we would otherwise be in trial, working our cases and negotiating with defense council to get resolutions to reduce that backlog,” he said.

Over 30 Superior Court jury trials were completed between July and November, when the suspension was lifted.

Ian Davis-Leonard: 425-339-3448; idavisleonard@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @IanDavisLeonard.

Ian Davis-Leonard reports on working class issues through Report for America, a national service program that places emerging journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. To support Ian’s work at The Daily Herald with a tax-deductible donation, go to www.heraldnet.com/support.

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