UTICA, N.Y. -- Monday, Sept. 21, jury trials resume in Oneida County Court, after a six-month break, due to the coronavirus pandemic. The steps the court has taken to keep jurors safe through jury selection and trials are evident...before the jurors even step inside the courthouse. Blue tape on the sidewalk serves as social distance markers. A deputy will take their temperature before they enter the courthouse. And the room where prospective jurors are screened will be much less crowded.
"It's cut in about a quarter. We have about 30 something seats in here, social distancing," says Oneida County Commissioner of Jurors, James Goodman. "Generally speaking we always set it up for 85-90. On a large trial we would be able to get over 100 in here."
Change is evident in the elevators, where there is a two person limit, and, self-cleaning buttons.
"We had health officials come in and they made recommendations to us. We looked at the governor's guidelines. The administrative judge, Jim Murphy, came down and he looked over everything," says the Hon. Michael L. Dwyer, Oneida County Court Judge.
Inside the courtroom, the public gallery is split by a divider, with the public on one side, and jurors on the other. The rest of the jury sits in the traditional jury box. Everyone will wear masks....except for witnesses, while testifying.
"They kind of made a determination that witnesses would not be able to mask because it would make it tough on the jurors to determine credibility, so we've had to move to face shields," says Judge Dwyer.
Jurors are being asked to bring their own masks and resealable drinks. The court made improvements to their air filtration system.
"We will take every precaution from the time they walk into this courthouse to the time that they're done with their jury service that they are safe during the entire procedure," says Judge Dwyer.