The Hunt County Commissioners Court voted Tuesday to renew the county’s ongoing resolution in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic will also impact how trials are conducted in the county, as the commissioners also approved a plan to use two downtown Greenville auditoriums to conduct the selection of juries, in the event the Hunt County Courthouse remains closed.
The vote on the county’s COVID-19 resolution was unanimous and will remain in effect until midnight July 14, unless renewed again by the commissioners at their next regular agenda on that date.
Under the resolution, all Hunt County offices, including the courthouse, remain closed to the public.
The commissioners were also scheduled Tuesday to consider rental agreements with the Greenville Municipal Auditorium, also known as the GMA, and the Texan Theater for the county’s use for jury selections.
Hunt County currently has nine pending capital murder and murder cases pending before the 196th and 354th District Courts, including three potential death penalty capital murder cases, as well as many more felony cases pending before the district courts, and misdemeanor cases pending before the County Courts At Law.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Supreme Court have indicated trials are not expected to begin in the state until at least Aug. 1.
Once they do begin, the county’s two district courts are not large enough to accommodate the hundreds of people who will be called into the jury pools for any of the pending death penalty cases.
“In selecting juries, we typically send out 500 notices, of which 250 people normally show up, and we have to social distance,” said County Judge Bobby Stovall. “The only place we can house the initial jury is the GMA.”
Stovall said the county has reached an agreement with the city of Greenville to use the GMA on Mondays, starting Aug. 17, as the auditorium is in use the first two Mondays of the month.
“Through the remainder of the year, except through holiday weeks,” Stovall said.
The Texan will be used to select juries for the Hunt County Courts At Law, unless the district courts will be needing to conduct more than one jury at a time, to help handle the backlog of cases.
“They are going to always try to have two juries at a time,” Stovall said. “So they are going to move that smaller jury pool from the GMA … over to the Texan Theater.”
The process may also be used if a justice of the peace courtroom intends to conduct a jury trial.
“It is going to be a little bit of a planning mechanism for a while, but it is the only solution that we could come up with,” Stovall said.
The commissioners also voted in May to approve $150,000 for the purchase and installation of new audio/video systems for both of the County Court At Law and the 354th District courtrooms, as well as new Zoom camera kits for the 196th District courtroom and the Hunt County Sheriff’s Office Inmate Zoom Room.
Once trials do begin, should they be conducted online because of the pandemic, the prisoners and any other person who is watching the audio and visual has to also be able to see everything happening in the courtroom.
Individuals who are parties to the events, who are attending the proceedings online, have the legal right to also watch and hear from the defendants, attorneys and witnesses.