Alaska’s courtrooms remain closed to jury trials due to pandemic

View from near jury box of the courtroom that is part of the Robert Boochever U.S. Courthouse located on the ninth floor of the Hurff Ackerman Saunders Federal Building in Juneau. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

There won’t be any jury trials in Alaska until at least September because of concerns over potentially spreading COVID-19 inside Alaska’s courtrooms.

Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Joel Bolger issued the order on Monday, saying the number of coronavirus cases remains high and it’s not possible to maintain social distancing in courthouses around the state.

In a typical jury trial, dozens or even hundreds of people at a time might be called to a courthouse for jury selection. Then, during the trial, the courtroom is packed with jurors, court staff, attorneys and clients, witnesses and even spectators.

“We’re not going to see that at this time,” said Bolger. “I don’t know when it will be safe to do that. We won’t see that until it is safe to do that.”

In Monday’s order, Bolger says most courtrooms do not have adequate space for social distancing and they need more time to come up with new procedures to safely hold jury trials.

Most non-emergency civil and criminal court proceedings were suspended in late March when the coronavirus began to spread.

Those started back up again June 1st, and included allowances for witnesses to testify before grand juries by telephone or videoconference.