Jury trials to begin in Marshall County in September

T-R PHOTO BY LANA BRADSTREAM — Marshall County Judicial Assistant Margie Mathis explains how rooms in the Orpheum Theater are being used for court proceedings. An upstairs room is used for district court proceedings.

Courts in Marshall County are preparing for upcoming jury trials to commence.

There are roughly 50, and on top of that, the county is in a unique situation with lacking a courthouse. Judge John Haney said jury trials — both criminal and civil — will be held in Orpheum Theater. The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in March made operating all of the necessary court proceedings impossible in the basement of the Max Building.

“We started to take all of the steps we could in March and April, but it did create a challenge,” Haney said. “There were real space constraints in the basement of the Max Building. It was adding to issues we had to deal with there.”

To solve the problem, the Iowa Valley Community College District offered the Orpheum Theater to the courts. Haney said state senator Jeff Edler of State Center and IVCCD Chancellor Kristie Fisher made the act possible.

It is at the Orpheum that jury trials will be held. The theater room, in which 25 people will be allowed, will be the setting for trials. The state temporarily suspended trials during the pandemic, and the Iowa Supreme Court established the Jumpstart Jury Trials Task Force. Composed of court personnel, attorneys and judges, the force consulted with public health and county officials and determined jury trials could safely resume in the state on Sept. 14.

The movie theater space at the Orpheum has been designated for the jury trial room. Jurors will be spaced out on the theater seats, the judge sits at the desk at the front of the room and the attorneys and parties involved sit at the desks. There are 50 upcoming trials.

The temporary suspension is what caused the backlog of trials on the docket in Marshall County.

“We have a lot of trials coming up,” Haney said. “The district court will have criminal jury trials and civil jury trials. There are well over 200 pending criminal trials in the district associate court.”

However, even though trials have not been held, that does not mean the court has not been busy. People have continued paying fines and Haney said telephone or video conferences have been ongoing.

“We took a lot of steps to allow for social distancing while still allowing people to conduct their court business,” Haney said.

In July, bench trials were restarted which were conducted also via phone or video. Those alternatives were also utilized for special or emergency situations, such as someone in jail on a bond, he said.

The number of people – including the jury — in the Orpheum Theater courtroom will be consistent with the protocols set by the Iowa Supreme Court. Some of the protocols revolved around utilizing a different facility. The Supreme Court required courts to address security, internet or Wi-Fi and technological needs, restrooms and amplification. The Marshall County court has taken care of those, as computers are set up and connected in the three Orpheum Theater courtrooms, a Marshall County Sheriff’s deputy is stationed in the lobby, microphones will be provided for jury trials to ensure everyone in the room can hear and COVID-19 precautions are in place. Courthouse security enforce face coverings, social distancing and admittance policies.

Masks are required before anyone enters the building and people are asked for their name and phone number at the door. Assistant clerk Margie Mathis said the numbers are requested in case someone is discovered to have COVID-19. Everyone in the building that day will be notified they might have been exposed. Court participants are also to sanitize areas before and after they are used.

Jurors will be asked COVID-19 related questions during the qualification process for duty. Anyone answering “yes” to any of the COVID-19 questions may be granted a deferral to a later date within a 12-month period.

“We are also making sure the flow of traffic is limited to the common areas,” Haney said. “We require all people to wear masks or face shield and some will be made available. There are signs in the controlled public areas. We are restricting entry and people can’t enter if they have encountered someone with COVID in 14 days.”

Since the court began operating in the Orpheum in July, Haney said there has not been any resistance from anyone seeking entry.

“Most of the folks have been appreciative we are keeping them safe while they get access to the courts,” he said.

The increased awareness people have about the COVID-19 pandemic and the necessary steps they need to take have been a benefit, along with the usage of the Orpheum Theater.

“I can’t emphasize enough how blessed we are,” Haney said. “Edler and Chancellor Fisher worked so hard to make that happen.”


Orpheum courtrooms

• Juvenile court in the Black Box, 30 people

• District associate court in the theater room, 25 people

• District court in the second-floor classroom, 20 people

Max courtrooms

• Magistrate court in southwest room, 16 people.

• District court 2, 10 people


Contact Lana Bradstream at 641-753-6611 or bradstream@timesrepublican.com.


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