Dimond Courthouse is home to Juneau's court systems, Oct. 25, 2019. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Juneau district court set to reopen for misdemeanors next month

Felony trials will recommence in January, as currently scheduled.

The Alaska Supreme Court’s Chief Justice Joel Bolger is allowing courts to reopen for misdemeanor jury trials on Nov. 2, according to a recent news release.

“Of course the first priority is to make sure the members of the public are safe,” said James Kwon, Juneau District Court’s area court administrator, in a phone interview. “The court’s been open every day since the pandemic began.”

While the necessity for the courts went on, as much work as possible was done remotely, Kwon said.

“The court’s looking forward to getting started, since trials had been kind of put on hold,” Kwon said. “We’ve been basically working to find a way to get things moving forward.”

[State says increased unemployment payments start next week]

Beginning in November, that means only holding misdemeanor trials, which only require six jurors plus alternates, Kwon said. Superior court trials, which require twelve jurors, are slated to resume on Jan. 4, according to the press release, but may be held in exceptional circumstances. Kwon said Juneau has already held such a trial, and expressed his confidence in the measures put in place to keep the jurors safe.

“For the exceptional circumstance, it depends on the case and the timetable. It’s case by case; it depends on the judge presiding over the matter,” Kwon said. “Juneau has carried out a court trial due to an exceptional circumstance. It is possible, it can be done.”

For members of the public participating in a trial, a number of measures are in place for public health to maintain safety, Kwon said.

“Some aspects of the normal processes will be delayed because we do have space limitations,” Kwon said. “Temperature screening is required. We’ve also implemented screening questions. Courtrooms will be equipped with plexiglass shields.”

While electronic access and filings have gone up, the court is fully open for business, Kwon said.

“The court system is always open,” Kwon said. “Someone is always working. The pandemic is no exception.”

Got more questions?

For more information and most questions, check out the court’s coronavirus information page.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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