ST. ALBANS CITY — In-person court hearings will be allowed starting next month in Vermont, according to a memo from the Supreme Court. However, the decision on how to proceed has yet to be made in Franklin County, sources say.
Mary Mossey, operations manager at Franklin County Superior Court, said the presiding judge will be in Monday and a meeting is scheduled to discuss the matter.
“Hopefully we get some clarifications from everybody on it,” she said on Friday.
When contacted by The Messenger Monday afternoon, court officials deferred comment to the Office of the Court Administrator. Attempts by The Messenger to learn more from the Office of the Court Administrator were unsuccessful Monday.
A memo issued Thursday by the Supreme Court Office of the Court Administrator authorizes in-person hearings as of June 14. Under Administrative Order 49, enacted March 16, 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, hearings are required to be held remotely with some exceptions.
“By this date, individuals will have had an opportunity to become fully vaccinated,” the Vermont Judiciary wrote in a statement. “The Court anticipates that some hearings will continue to be held remotely after remote hearings are no longer mandatory and even after the conclusion of the judicial emergency.”
The court in Franklin County still has not been cleared to conduct jury trials, and while it may be cleared at some point for six-person jury trials, according to Franklin County State’s Attorney Jim Hughes, that may not allow for much progress.
“Not many want to do six-person jury trials, they want 12 people” to deliver a verdict, he said Friday.
Much of the issue comes down to the facility itself, with space for social distancing and courtroom ventilation both playing a role in hindering a return to 12-person jury trials, Hughes said.
“I don’t know that we’re going to be able to do that until the social distancing requirements are relaxed or stricken,” he said.
The Judiciary statement said amending the order now gives judges, court staff and involved parties time to plan for in-person proceedings.
Thursday’s amendment also extends the effective date of the administrative order until July 5, “based on the projections of public-health experts concerning the course of the pandemic.”
Hughes said the court would likely do a combination of in-person and virtual hearings even when it is deemed safe to do in-person, as using the Webex online meeting platform has brought some efficiency to court procedures.
“We get the arraignments done much more efficiently,” he said, noting that virtual arraignments also cut down on transportation time form the correctional facility to the court.
He also noted that there are instances where having a witness in person at the courthouse is better.