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Courtrooms prepare to fully reopen, but officials say pandemic impacts will still be felt

Posted at 8:06 PM, Mar 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-08 21:38:58-05

BRYAN, TEXAS — Governor Greg Abbott's decision to open up the state 100% has also been extended to our court system.

Courts have been cleared for in-person trials, but the local judges and officials are still working to determine what's next. So is this good news for attorneys, who are due for some client-attorney in-person interaction?

There's an old saying in law, "Justice delayed is justice denied." The pandemic has really emphasized the waiting period many are still facing.

"You have 2017 cases that were waiting for jury trials before the COVID outbreak and all the pandemic measures were put into effect. You have essentially just added at least one more year of a delay on people getting to have their day in court," said criminal defense and child protective case attorney, Eric Quisenberry.

Quisenberry says the transition to virtual court settings has been interesting. The platform has made some things easier, yet others harder.

"It allows for witnesses to take part in cases much easier than before, because you can have witnesses from out of town that don't have to travel into town for a court date. It's much easier for parties to appear that way. In many ways, it's been easier for the outside parties or witness to get involved with cases. It's a little different for lawyers because we don't all get to get together and work things out," he added.

Among many things still in the air, Quisenberry says some jurors may not like the idea of getting back into crowded areas as traditional courtroom settings look to return to normal.

"There are a lot of people who are going to be hesitant to enter into those situations, and that could affect the makeup of your juries and who shows up for jury service, and that could have a pretty wide-ranging impact on how cases are resolved," Quisenberry stated.

Down the street, attorney Shane Phelps says he hasn't tried a case in a year, and trying cases is an action he likes to do.

"Just being a trial lawyer and not getting to go to trial for a year has been pretty strange. I think different firms and different lawyers have experienced different repercussions from this pandemic. I have been very fortunate I have not had a slow down in business," he said.

While it's known masks help prevent the virus from spreading, Phelps says it's hard to gauge juror's reactions behind one.

"It has created a host of problems. I think everyone would like to get back to normal. I know I would, but I would like to do it safely and I would like to do it with a recognition that we have to do it in such a way that way the rights of our clients are protected," Phelps added.

Getting cases resolved and getting juries back in boxes is great news, but we won't see complete normalcy back in the courtroom overnight.