Tazewell, Va. – Along with everything else the Coronavirus put justice on hold.
From March 16 until Oct. 28 Tazewell County Circuit Court could not hold jury trials. The Supreme Court of Virginia complied with Governor Ralph Northam’s order declaring a state of emergency. Among other things that order halted all civil and criminal jury trials across the Commonwealth.
The right to a speedy trial was suspended and cases quickly backlogged. Eventually the Supreme Court said trials could resume if localities submitted a plan to do so safely and that plan was reviewed by a three judge panel and approved.
Henrico County became the first to receive approval for jury trials Sept. 25. There are now 28 courts across the state cleared to hold jury trials. Wythe on Oct. 21, Smyth, Oct. 26 and Tazewell Oct. 28 are the southwest Virginia counties approved so far.
Judges Jack S. (Chip), Hurley and Richard Patterson and others spent several weeks developing the plan and getting it submitted. The county’s board of supervisors spent $18,700 altering the HVAC system in the courthouse to create a negative air flow.
They budgeted $10,000 to purchase clear plastic, disposable face shields for judges, attorneys, jurors, witnesses, the parties and others. The jury seats were also re-arranged so there is space between the members.
They also made the board room at the county administration building available to members of a jury pool waiting to be selected for service. The plan also calls frequent of the courtrooms and the practice of taking everyone’s temperature before they enter will continue.
There is a civil case scheduled for later this month and the first criminal matter scheduled for a jury trial is the Michael Pennington murder trial slated to begin Dec. 2.