Vermont Judiciary delays criminal jury trials

Windham County trials were set to resume Dec. 7

BRATTLEBORO — Criminal jury trials, previously scheduled to resume in the Windham unit of the Vermont Superior Court in Brattleboro on Dec. 7, are now postponed indefinitely.

According to a news release, the delay is in response to a recent significant increase in COVID-19 cases in Vermont, which is expected to continue in the coming weeks.

Chief Superior Judge Brian Grearson and Vermont State Court Administrator Patricia Gabel made the decision to postpone the restart in consultation with Judge John Treadwell, who would have presided over the trials.

“We are disappointed to delay this critical component of our democracy - the right to a trial by a jury of one's peers,” said Karen R. Carroll, Associate Justice of the Vermont Supreme Court and co-chair of a committee formed to restart jury trials safely during the pandemic.

“However, the safety and well-being of all is critical,” she said.

The Supreme Court directed Grearson and Gabel to develop an implementation plan based on the recommendations informed by the Jury Restart Committee, which included judicial officers, a court manager, a state's attorney, a public defender, and a civil practitioner.

That work has been ongoing for months to be sure the courts can resume physical operations as safely and efficiently as possible.

The state recently engaged Erin Bromage Ph.D., an infectious disease specialist and professor at University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, to conduct an assessment and suggest best practices both for Vermont's physical court facilities and its planned procedures.

Bromage said the Windham County Courthouse was on track with modifications necessary for a safe restart.

“For important court proceedings, we can go forward with changes to our workflow and some changes to the infrastructure; most of those things can be done fairly simply,” she said.

While the court has made many such changes and was poised to draw a jury for its first trial, recent COVID-19 case numbers caused judicial leaders to postpone until the courts can more confidently ensure the safety of jurors, trial participants, and court staff.

“It is critical that all of us work together to reduce our contact with others and slow the spread of the virus. We've done it before, and we can do it again. When this latest wave is behind us, the Judiciary will again look to restart in-person jury trials safely,” Carroll said.

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