Okanogan County has suspended all jury trials as of Aug. 30 because of the high number of COVID cases in the county, which would involuntarily increase jurors’ risk of exposure.
In his Aug. 31 order suspending the trials, Okanogan County Superior Court Judge Chris Culp said the courtroom cannot safely accommodate the number of people necessary for a jury panel, and there are no suitable alternative spaces.
The COVID incidence rate per 100,000 population in the county was 858 at the end of August, and it’s expected to increase through September, with a possible decrease in October, Culp said after consulting with Okanogan County Public Health.
Although the court can take steps to protect citizens appearing for jury duty, such as requiring masks, “the increased rate of transmissibility of the latest COVID variant is such that the Court cannot adequately protect people seated for lengthy periods during jury selection or during trial,” Culp said. “The Court specifically finds there is currently a serious danger in indoor congregate settings.”
Trials scheduled for the Aug. 31 and Sept. 28 two-week dockets have been stricken and are continued to Oct. 26. The court will prepare new orders setting hearings. Civil jury trials are also stricken.
The county suspended jury trials for several months last year before resuming them in July, using the Agriplex at the Okanogan County Fairgrounds, which was large enough for social distancing. The Agriplex is not available now, Culp said.