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Jury trials ordered to resume Feb. 8 in Nueces County, local attorneys express concerns

According to the Texas Supreme Court, jury trials can begin again if the reopening plan has been certified and approved by the local health district.

NUECES COUNTY, Texas — Jury trials in Nueces County are set to begin the week of Feb. 8. A number of legal and medical professionals have reportedly signed off on the idea, but not everyone agrees with it.

In fact, the move has prompted the Coastal Bend Criminal Defense Lawyer's Association to send a strongly worded letter to District Judge Inna Klein opposing the plan.

"We haven't been given the option of a Zoom trial. We haven't been given any option," Association President Lisa Greenberg said. "We are just being ordered to appear with these jurors."

Greenberg said her organization sent a letter to Nueces County district judges after local criminal defense lawyers went to the organization complaining they were being forced to be part of in-person trials beginning the week of Feb. 8.

"To order a trial right now where a defense attorney doesn't want to go is reckless," Greenberg said. "Not only to the attorney. It's reckless to the client. It's reckless to the public."

However, according to a Texas Supreme Court emergency order, jury trials in county courts and district courts can begin again if the reopening plan has been certified and approved by the local health district, and that has happened with the Nueces County plan.

Still, some lawyers that spoke with 3News said they aren't sure that justice will be delivered in these pandemic courtrooms.

"There are a lot of questions about whether a criminal defendant can get a fair trial these days, and whether a jury is going to be able to come in and really look at the evidence and examine the evidence and not be under the overwhelming stress of the pandemic," Corpus Christi attorney Matt Manning said.

95th Civil District Judge Monica Purdy in Dallas held a Zoom hearing Wednesday regarding Corpus Christi attorney Bob Hilliard's request to have his client's civil case heard by a jury through Zoom. 

Hilliard and Ben Crump, the attorney for the George Floyd family, are trying a civil case in Dallas and believe it is time to get juries back to work across the country.

"We must all endeavor to make certain that the American justice system does not stop turning because we are in the throes of this pandemic. We have the technology. We have the resources," Crump said. "We have the intellect to give the Moreno family their day in court."

"We have filed a request in Nueces County for Zoom trials as well, and the bottom line is their dockets are piling up. They're getting more and more behind. Our clients want to go to trial. They have a right to go to trial. There are ways to do it, and carefully," Hilliard said.

Administrative Judge Inna Klein told 3News she has seen the letter from the Defense Lawyer's Association and expects to be able to respond to their concerns by Thursday morning.

For the latest updates on coronavirus in the Coastal Bend, click here.

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