JANESVILLE—Due to the increase in COVID-19 cases locally, the Rock County Circuit Court judiciary has decided against resuming jury trials until at least November, according to a notice sent by the court.
Jury trials will resume on Nov. 9, at the earliest. On Sept. 1, the court resumed limited in-person appearances for certain hearings, but not jury trials. Limited in-person appearances will continue, according to the notice. For in-person appearances, all parties must wear a mask and answer health screening questions.
The latest decision follows an Oct. 1 Wisconsin Supreme Court decision allowing counties to pause reopening plans based on local impacts of the pandemic. In Rock County, various virus metrics, including daily case figures, hospitalizations and daily test positivity rates have reached all-time highs within the last two weeks.
“We’re quite concerned about the changing landscape,” Judge John Wood said. “And we decided to kind of pump the breaks a little bit and re-examine where we were at, which was a good thing.”
On Oct. 12 in Beloit, 1,239 cases were reported, an increase of 187 since Oct. 5. In Janesville, 1,418 cases have been reported, an increase of 240 since Oct. 5. In Rock County, a total of 3,538 cases and 37 deaths were reported on Oct. 14 by the Rock County Public Health Department. Also on Oct. 14 the county had a daily test positivity rate of 44%, well above the statewide average. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) reported on Oct. 14 that the seven-day test positivity average was 20.3%.
Most court appearances will continue remotely via Zoom teleconference and available for public viewing on YouTube. Parties, attorneys and other participants should continue to appear at hearings remotely unless notified by the court to appear in-person.
“The criminal courts and the civil courts have been able to function very well without having in-person appearances,” Judge Daniel Dillon said.
Attorneys and those with jury trial dates before Nov. 9 are required to appear for all final pretrial conferences via video conference.
A plan to resume jury trials was expected to be implemented this month, but the spike in COVID-19 activity in the county caused the delay.
“Based upon current COVID19 trends in Rock County, the judges decided to revise the plan to further mitigate risks to jurors, parties, attorneys, court personnel, and the public,” the notice said.
Rock County judges will meet weekly to assess the public health situation going forward.
To view hearings online, visit at: wicourts.gov/ecourts/livestream.html.
Adams Publishing Group reporter Jonah Beleckis contributed to this story.