Jury Management During COVID-19
April 22, 2020 by
The need to “flatten the curve” came to light in the early days of the COVID-19 (the coronavirus) crisis, sparking social distancing and stay-at-home orders in states across the country. Many businesses had to close their doors to adhere to these standards. This also greatly impacted government buildings, including courthouses and jury rooms that had shut their doors and reduced foot traffic.
In the case of courtrooms, a ban on large group gatherings certainly includes jury duty – an essential part of a court’s business. Many courts cancelled cases, but jurors remained under summons to appear.
This issue arose in Tarrant County, Texas, where the county court had a death penalty case scheduled for April 9. The jury was in the midst of being summoned for the case. To handle the sudden jury pool cancellation, the county turned to its electronic jury management system. The system enabled the county to halt the summons process by notifying the print service to cease printing and mailing the summonses. This resulted in a significant cost savings for the county.
“We normally summon jurors three weeks in advance,” explained Paula Morales, jury bailiff for Tarrant County. “But this was a sudden cancelation. With our summons system, I can hold the summons until I get the judge’s order to mail them or cancel them. In this case, I was able to stop the process, so we never had to spend the money to print the form, put a stamp on it, and send it out. You cannot imagine how much those cost savings add up for our county that summons over 6,000 jurors a week.”
Not only did the county’s jury management system make it easy and more streamlined for the court to handle this unique situation, it also made it easy for the court to communicate with jurors who had already completed an online summons response.
“Our jury management system has E-Response, which is the online portion of it for jurors,” Morales noted. “On E-Response, jurors automatically fill out a qualification questionnaire that gives us their telephone number and their email address. With that information, we're able to notify them by email, IVR, and text of anything that happens.”
Anything, in this case, meant the Tarrant County courts canceling all juries up until May 1. Along with the county’s website, they leveraged E-Response to get the word out to update jurors of what was happening at the court.
“When people signed in to our E-response, they got the message about the cancelations. We also sent emails, text messages, and phone calls communicating with everybody who had already registered and confirmed themselves for jury duty to let them know what's going on,” Morales added. “That whole process comes together to create the best environment because people are just more informed.”