The coronavirus pandemic forced the court system to pause and created a backlog of cases and hearings for attorneys.
Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden tells KCRG TV that they are gearing up to take on the extra cases and learn what the new norm will be. “The justice system is treading water but right now we’re waiting for the tidal wave of the backlog of cases to hit our shores,” Vander Sanden says.
Vander Sanden says there are hundreds of cases on his office’s plate right now. Many of those cases will be decided without a jury but he said about two or three percent of criminal cases will still need one. That’s means a lot more people would need to be in the courtroom. “We can’t ask people to come to the courthouse unless we can ensure their health and their safety,” he says.
The date currently set to restart civil and criminal non-jury trials is sometime in June, with criminal jury trials expecting to start the following month. The Iowa Supreme Court is currently working with several legal professionals to start rolling out a plan. Sixth Judicial District chief judge Patrick Grady, tells KCRG TV he expects it to be a slow restart.
“My guess is we will start doing maybe one at a time to see how we do with structuring some social distancing,” Grady says. He says they will also possibly see how it works to wear masks. Grady said these plans have been in the works since the courts partially closed in March.
Attorney Peter Riley says they will have to figure out how to deal with the new situation to still allow for a fair trial. “The system is going to be changed to allow for more things to be done not in person,” Riley says. “But again, you can’t really try a trial where you have witnesses that have to be examined, particularly if you have the jury that has to listen to the evidence. ”
All the final details on getting the court system back up and running are still being worked out.