Williamson County Courthouse

The Williamson County Courthouse is among places heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. When it comes to jury trials, local justice centers might see them return as early as next month.

Judge Doug Arnold, of County Court-at-Law No. 3 in Williamson County, was scheduled to begin a jury trial on Dec. 7. This would have been the first jury trial in Williamson County since the COVID-19 pandemic forced courts to conduct remote

proceedings.

This past week, two of the three cases set on the Dec. 7 trial docket were resolved by agreement. The third was continued to a future date.

“Jury trials are critical to the justice system,” said Judge Betsy Lambeth, Williamson County’s local administrative district judge, “and our team has worked tirelessly to develop a plan that would allow us to conduct trials as safely as possible.”

The jury trial committee, co-chaired by Arnold and Judge Stacey Mathews, of the 277th District Court, developed an in-depth jury trial plan that includes safeguards to reduce risk to the health and safety of trial participants. The plan was reviewed by Dr. Lori Palazzo, Williamson County local health authority, and approved by Judge Billy Ray Stubblefield, the regional presiding judge.

The jury trial plan resulted from collaboration between many county departments, including the district courts and county courts-at-law, district and county attorney’s offices, information technology, facilities, the Sheriff’s Office, emergency medical services, and Constable Precinct 3.

“We are focused on balancing the interests of justice with the need to address legitimate health concerns,” said Arnold. “So, while we can’t be at full capacity, we are happy to have developed a process that allows for jury trials to resume in Williamson County, even at a limited level.”

“Although the cases set for this month will not go to trial,” added Mathews, “the fact that we are able to schedule additional jury trials beginning the first week of January is an important step in helping our community attain some normalcy during this pandemic.”

Courts restricted in-person proceedings beginning in March of 2020 in compliance with Texas Supreme Court orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic. To keep courts open and functioning, Williamson County successfully transitioned to videoconference hearings. Using technology, judges have conducted hearings and resolved cases throughout the pandemic. As a result, the courts of Williamson County have remained open and justice administered.

Pursuant to orders from the Texas Supreme Court, Williamson County courts will conduct most proceedings in a virtual environment for the foreseeable future. Beginning in January 2021, the courts will resume limited in-person proceedings, such as jury trials, in a safe manner. Significant safety protocols are reportedly in place to create the safest environment possible for these in-person proceedings, with continuous consultation with the local public health authority.

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