Jury trials resume in Douglas County with new safety protocols

Published: Mar. 4, 2021 at 4:44 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - It’s back to business at the Douglas County Courthouse, but jury duty looks a lot different in a pandemic.

Instead of being called to the courthouse, jurors are being told to go to the Civic Center.

“Everybody is summoned for 8:30 in the morning to 1819 Farnam and we have them meet in the legislative chambers. That’s the check-in process. You hand them your summons they beep it, we know you’re there, we tell you generally where to sit,” said John Friend, Douglas County Jury Commissioner.

While waiting, everyone lined up on these large “X’s” to ensure distance.

Once inside the legislative chambers, all the jurors sat spaced apart.

“Then I do an orientation, I tell people what their responsibilities are, what they can and can’t do, what they should and shouldn’t do, what their day is going to look like.”

If there are two trials going on in one day, they’ll take some of the jurors from the Douglas County Civic Center across the street to the Douglas County Annex Building.

“It’s an existing building. It’s an old building. We had to revamp a lot of it and figure out how we were going to utilize the space that we had.” said Friend.

It takes an entire team to move all the jurors to this building.

You go through security.

Then jurors are split into two rooms.

The main jury pool goes through questions with the prosecution and the defense.

Potential alternants go into a separate room and watch on a monitor.

It took a lot of planning for this part.

“All brand-new chairs, monitors, there are still pillars in the building so we had to rearrange the chairs so the attorneys involved and the judge could see everybody’s face,” said Friend.

Once the jurors are finally chosen, they are moved into a courtroom and spread out.

“It’s not perfect but it’s going to work fine for us as we move forward under the restrictions that we have for covid,” said Friend.

Jury commissioner John Friend says so far, the process has gone smoothly.

There have only a few minor hiccups with having to tell people where to go in the annex building.

He says he has received positive feedback on the new process.

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