October 2, 2020
HLG trial Attorney Sarah Graziano and co-counsel Wayne Greeson of The Law Offices of Wayne Greeson successfully tried the first in-person trial in Wayne County, Indiana, since the county halted jury trials as a result of the pandemic.
After months of forced social isolation and uncertainty about the coronavirus, an in-person trial in a closed courtroom could be a daunting task for all involved. But the trial was successful, lasting just over two days. Key to the trial’s success was Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Kolger. The Honorable Judge Kolger was very attentive to the jury’s comfort and took to heart any concerns about safety procedures. Judge Kolger addressed the jury multiple times, gaging their opinions on comfort and safety.
Safety Protocol Within the Courthouse
Safety precautions began at the security entrance. Masks were mandatory for entry. Impressively, Wayne County had employed a new temperature screening device that allowed all guests to have a contactless temperature check before entering to the Courthouse.
The Court staff also employed safety precautions during the jury panel’s check-in process. Jury members maintained six feet apart as they checked in and sat in specially-marked areas of the Court’s gallery. Two gallery rows were removed to ensure social distancing.
Plexiglass protected the witness stand. The plexiglass was was wiped and disinfected thoroughly after each witness. The room itself was misted with a disinfectant either at the conclusion of the day or before any participants in the jury trial arrived in the morning.
During the trial, attorneys were allowed to remove their masks to communicate with witnesses, the jury, staff, or the Judge. After the jury was selected for the trial, all individuals were given the option to remove their masks during the trial provided social distance was maintained and all were comfortable with the removal.
Ms. Graziano opted to wear the mask other than when she was communicating inside the courtroom. “If any juror kept their mask on, I kept mine on,” she said to promote the safest possible environment.
Furthermore, Judge Kolger gave the selected jury the option to use the entire courtroom for deliberations if upon examining the jury deliberations room, the jury did not believe there was enough space to deliberate safely. The jury collectively decided the jury room was sufficient.
A Successful Trial
Despite the disruptions caused by cleaning and inevitable adjustments of masks, there was very little interruption to the actual proceedings. The defendant, Jacqueline Myers (deceased) was represented by counsel retained by her insurance company. Liability for the event was admitted. The trial issue was the amount of compensation owed to Jennifer Morgan. With the help of Sarah Graziano and local counsel Wayne Gresson, Ms. Morgan obtained a verdict in excess of the insurance policy in the total sum of $125,252.00.
Ms. Graziano is optimistic that civil jury trials can begin during these uncertain times. “We can do this safely,” she said. “and people can feel safe while it’s being done.” Crucial to any trial’s success is a considerate judge, who is mindful of the health risks inherent to the process and takes the concerns of every person in their court into account. Importantly, Ms. Graziano pointed out that cooperation from the litigants, attorneys and Court staff is just as important to conducting any jury trial during these different times.