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Michigan Supreme Court delays jury trials until June, explores remote options

The Detroit News

The Michigan Supreme Court is delaying all jury trials until June 22 and exploring ways to conduct the proceedings remotely amid the COVID-19 crisis, according to an administrative order issued Thursday.

Delaying the jury trials “is necessary because the state of emergency and related social distancing make it impossible to conduct trials using traditional methods,” Tom Boyd, the state court administrator, wrote in a memo Thursday to Michigan judges, court administrators, probate registers and county clerks.

State of Michigan Supreme Court seal in The Hall of Justice in Lansing.

“Despite this reality, the number one question the State Court Administrative Office (SCAO) has received over the past 72 hours is 'when will jury trials resume?' We need to find an answer to that question.”

The office is authorized to launch pilot projects to “test and evaluate innovative jury procedures to allow for appropriate social distancing while also protecting the parties’ constitutional and statutory rights,” according to the order Thursday. “After the pilot projects are complete, the State Court Administrative Office shall provide recommendations to assist all courts in providing jury trials that promote public health and safety as well as protect people’s rights.”

In his memo, Boyd said: “To our knowledge, no judge in the country has ever presided over a remote jury trial, and these pilots will help us define what 'remote jury trial' means in practice.” The memo cited the National Center for State Court’s Center for Jury Studies reporting that it had not learned of any jurisdiction conducting remote jury trials as of April 17.

The high court has issued other mandates in the last month to address the pandemic, including limiting access at state courts and expanding the authority for judicial officers to conduct proceedings remotely.

Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack has said "emergency action to protect the public" should take precedence over "normal operating procedures" inside courtrooms.

Local jurisdictions have also issued emergency orders. Jury service for Wayne County Circuit Court is suspended until mid-August, forcing the delay of some trials as officials contemplate social distancing for jurors, the court's chief judge announced Monday.

The moves come as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the state.

Michigan reported 164 additional deaths on Thursday, bringing the state’s death toll due to the illness COVID-19 to 2,977.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has said she expects to unveil a plan Friday for a short-term extension of her statewide stay-at-home order to stem the spread.