Jury trials to resume in Leavenworth County

John Richmeier
The Leavenworth Times

After more than a year without a jury trial, trials with jurors are scheduled to resume in June in Leavenworth County District Court.

But seating arrangements for the trials will be different.

Jury trials were halted last year across the state because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Court officials in Leavenworth County prepared a 15-page plan for how to conduct trials during the pandemic.

“We submitted a plan that was approved,” Court Administrator Steve Crossland said.

With the Kansas Supreme Court’s approval of the plan, Judge Gerald Kuckelman, who handles the criminal docket for Leavenworth County, has started scheduling trials for as early as June.

According to the plan that was submitted to the Supreme Court, more than 160 felony criminal cases are awaiting trial in Leavenworth County.

“The first step towards resuming jury proceedings involves a thorough re-assessment of how court space needs to be physically or operationally changed to meet required health and safety standards,” the Leavenworth County District Court plan states.

For jury trials, jurors will be seated in the public seating areas of courtrooms, which are commonly referred to as the galleries, instead of the traditional jury boxes. This will allow social distancing to be observed.

The courtrooms for Leavenworth County are located at the Justice Center, 601 S. Third St. One of the building’s courtrooms will allow up to 20 jurors to be seated in the gallery with social distancing still in place. Other courtrooms have public seating areas that can accommodate up to 14 jurors with social distancing.

People will be required to wear face coverings.

People who are summoned for jury duty will receive a letter from the chief judge of the judicial district that summarizes actions taken to ensure their safety.

Juror questionnaires also will include medical screening questions. Prospective jurors will be informed that the questionnaires will not be made public.

Jury boxes in the courtrooms will be used to seat members of the public who wish to observe the trials.

Up to four people can be seated in a jury box while still observing social distancing. If more public seating is needed, a trial can be livestreamed to an adjacent courtroom, jury room or conference room, according to the approved plan.

With trial backlogs having developed during the pandemic, Gov. Laura Kelly recently signed a bill into law that suspends the state’s speedy trial requirements until May 1, 2023.

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