Proceedings at the Denton County Courts Building will continue to look much different when nonessential hearings are allowed to start on June 1.
The Texas Supreme Court announced previously that some in-person proceedings can resume on June 1. This doesn’t include jury trials, which aren’t slated to begin until Aug. 1. The Denton County court system pressed pause on nonessential court matters following state recommendations, and procedures such as protective orders have occurred virtually.
In order to expand services, administrative judges within a court’s jurisdiction have to submit an operating plan to the regional presiding judge for approval.
“I believe the Denton County courts are well prepared to expand operations to include in-person hearings when necessary,” said Judge Brody Shanklin, the county administrative judge and 211th District Court judge. “The operating plan is designed to ensure the health and safety of litigants, attorneys, witnesses, visitors, court staff, judges and other individuals entering the buildings housing courts in Denton County.”
Many court functions should be held remotely whenever possible, according to the plan for Denton County. This includes hearings for essential and nonessential matters. In-person announcement and arraignment dockets will be limited to attorneys and defendants as much as possible.
Denton County judges will try to conduct proceedings remotely whenever possible. Judges and court staff will work remotely whenever possible.
Thermometers will be available at the Denton County Courts building at 1450 E. McKinney St. Judges and staff whose temperatures read 100 or higher, feel feverish or show other COVID-19 symptoms won’t be allowed to enter the building.
People who are sick or who think they’ve been exposed to the virus should reschedule their hearings or trials and not appear in court. The Denton County Judiciary is also advising people who are more vulnerable to the virus to reschedule their court appearances.
Face coverings will be encouraged among judges and staff when social distancing isn’t possible, but judges can also require people to wear masks or other personal protective equipment in their jurisdiction in the courtroom.
Attorney Tim Powers said he thinks the Denton County Judiciary is expanding services in a methodical manner.
“I think the public is going to be protected and the system is going to start moving slowly,” Powers said. “Everyone in the local judicial system has worked together on a process that’s going to be safe for the public and good on the administration on justice so people won’t be held in limbo for a long time.”
First Assistant District Attorney Jamie Beck said in April that jurors for the Denton County Grand Jury have been meeting in a full-size courtroom in order to social distance and that the number of jurors was cut to nine.
Another concern is whether the upcoming trials will have effective juries. People may not want to show up for jury duty amid COVID-19 fears.
Powers expressed concern in April that postponing many court proceedings will leave people waiting longer to prove their innocence. While attorneys and their clients were able to put protective orders in place and bond conditions via videoconferencing, jury trials scheduled from mid-March through the summer will have to be rescheduled.
“[My clients] feel they’ve been penalized because they are still waiting,” Powers said. “They want to get on with their lives.”