Jasper County Courts set to hold jury trials in old Joplin Public Library
First jury trial since beginning of the pandemic scheduled for Wednesday
JASPER COUNTY, Mo. – In the age of COVID-19, the wheels of justice have been moving slowly.
“You know, it disrupted everyone’s life, and the judiciary is no exception,” says Jasper County Courts Administrator Erik Theis.
In April, the Missouri Supreme Court suspended most in-person proceedings, including jury trials. In the meantime, Jasper County took care of things like bond hearings and other simpler matters virtually. But, there’s not been any jury trials.
“Constitutionally, the jury trial is a protection of all of our rights as citizens in the United States,” says Theis.
In June, the state Supreme Court put out guidance for holding jury trials amid the pandemic, but defendants in Jasper County that are awaiting their day in court are still waiting.
“The intention was to do jury trials at Memorial Hall. Unfortunately, there was a structural collapse in the facility,” says Theis.
So they had to find somewhere else to hold jury trials because the Jasper County Courts building isn’t big enough to ensure people can social distance. That’s where the old Joplin Public Library comes in. Starting Wednesday (July 22nd), jury trials will be held at the vacant library.
“It’s an unusual situation, but we have to be nimble,” says Theis.
“I think this is probably the first time in at least in recent memory that I can recall that we’ve ever had a state court trial that’s not in a court building,” says Jasper County Sheriff Randee Kaiser.
Over the last month, a large part of the building has been transformed into a courtroom. Complete with metal detectors, a bench for the judge, seating for a jury and spectators, and a separate room for jury deliberations.
“There’s been a lot of challenges in getting the building obviously clean and ready for the public to use. There’s been a lot of steps involved, but we’re ready to go,” says Theis.
They also had to figure out logistical things like internet connectivity, when defendants need to be brought in, security, and how to observe social distancing in the best way. But, it’s all work that had to be done to keep the wheels of justice turning.
“Definitely is good to get these jury trials going again. Getting some sense of normalcy, even though it’s in a different building and a different way of doing things,” says Kaiser.
“People need and want to have justice, and in order to do that, we have to have jury trials and we have to have court. And so we’re able to adapt and do what we need to do to make sure we’re operational,” says Theis.
The assault trial of Javonta Razor starts on Wednesday at the library. Theis says they plan to use the old library for jury trials for the foreseeable future.