UPDATE: After deadline for the print edition of the Eagle, Circuit Judge Hoyt Elliott said he found out the Alabama Supreme Court issued a new order Wednesday afternoon on jury trials, which now eliminates having trials in August.
UPDATE: After deadline for the print edition of the Eagle, Circuit Judge Hoyt Elliott said he found out the Alabama Supreme Court issued a new order Wednesday afternoon on jury trials, which now eliminates having trials in August. However, Elliott said his initial study indicates the docket for the week of Sept. 14 could still stand. A new local order is expected on Thursday once Elliott has given a full review of Wednesday's state order, which is attached to this story. The Daily Mountain Eagle will have further details in Friday's edition.
The original story that was in the print edition follows:
Jury dockets in Walker County are being delayed again, with the first dockets set for August - and four later 2020 dockets running as late as early December in order to catch up with criminal cases.
Presiding Circuit Judge Hoyt Elliott announced Wednesday he had issued an order on Monday that again deals with the COVID-19 virus that has upended court schedules this year.
He noted that the Alabama Supreme Court issued an April 30 order in response to the pandemic, noting jury trial would remain suspended and no juror summons would be issued prior to July 1.
As a result, Elliott cancelled the jury trial dockets set for the weeks of June 8 and Aug. 3. Even looking at early summer, Elliott had recently noted concerns about how jury selections would be held considering the large number of people involved, and said seated juries might have to sit across the courtroom to practice social distancing.
Elliott said the next jury trial dockets would be set for the week starting Aug. 17. Dockets would then pick up pace, with jury trials dockets set for the weeks of Sept. 14, Oct. 5, Nov. 9 and Dec. 7.
All of those are primarily going to be criminal dockets, Elliott said Wednesday.
"We''re making a real effort to move criminal cases. We are pretty much dedicating each of these dockets to criminal cases," he said.
He noted he has been consulting with the other local judges and Walker County District Attorney Bill Adair.
"We had a meeting about a week or so ago and discussed the cases we thought ought to go on those dockets, that ought to be prioritized," he said.
No jury dockets had been scheduled for July anyway, as that is normally left vacant due to vacations, he said.
"The order was that there was no summons to go out prior to July," he said, noting four to six weeks are supposed to be allowed when issuing between a summons and a trial date. "Four weeks would have gotten us to the first of August," making it realistically too quick for all parties concerned to make preparations. As a result, he added a couple more weeks.
He said dockets were added in November and December to make up for lost time in 2020, leaving a late year schedule that he said would be "challenging." Typically the courts have avoided November, looking the upcoming holidays. He said when an eye on Thanksgiving and Christmas, he set dockets for the early parts of those months.
"But it is still month-to-month. Any one of those of those is subject to being cancelled, depending on what the COVID-19 does to us," Elliott said.
Asked when the last docket was, Elliott thought he recalled his last one was in February.
He has noted that local judges have continued to work through closings this year, using video conferencing to conduct hearings.