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Jury trials set to resume in February

It’s been about six months since the Marshall County District Courts have been operating out of the Orpheum Theater.

In July, IVCCD announced it would make the building available for the court system to use because it would not be holding events there through the rest of the year. The partnership between both parties has turned out to be beneficial.

The county court was displaced while construction is being done to the courthouse.

“We’re tickled pink,” said Carolyn Haney, district clerk. “It’s like moving into a three-story house we didn’t have before.”

Haney credits IVCCD chancellor Kristie Fisher and Sen. Jeff Edler (R-State Center) for making the theater available.

“I can’t thank them enough. They’ve made life a lot easier,” she said. “We wouldn’t have been able to do a jury trial in Marshall County. I don’t know what we would have done.”

The building is not open to the public at the moment. To enter, you must write your name and phone number to allow for contact tracing if COVID-19 infections would spring up in relation to the facility. Haney knocked on wood when asked if her staff had any outbreaks so far.

“We’ve not had anyone come down with COVID,” she said. “We’ve been exposed. We had to stay home for 14 days.”

Beyond the entrance to the Orpheum, security is seated at the concession stand to check in jurors.

The main auditorium is set up for jury trials. Audience seats are covered with black garbage bags to close off seats, making space between anyone in the gallery. There are about 30 seats open. The judge’s bench is on the stage and the counsel tables are on the floor, separated with clear plastic partitions. Sanitary materials are seen throughout the room. The same is true in the other two makeshift courts currently housed in the Orpheum.

Jury trials were halted in November while COVID-19 cases were high but Haney said they will begin holding them again on Feb. 1.

“Trying to keep the court system running but still keep my staff and the general public safe — that’s more of the challenge right now,” Haney said. “We’re not through here yet. I know we’ve been dealing with this for almost a year but you can’t forget what’s important and keep everyone safe.”

The pandemic has brought at least one change to the courts which may stick even when it ends. Holding hearings virtually has been a success, Haney said.

“Once the judges got used to it and comfortable with it, and the court reporters were able to hear things appropriately — I see those things carrying on,” she said.

Haney has hope for a return to the courthouse early next year.

“It depends on how construction goes for them and what they encounter,” she said. “We’re ready to get back in there. It’s a beautiful building. Then you’re all under the same roof.”

IVCCD has given the county court total control of the Orpheum during this period. The agreement both parties entered into is set to continue into August, according to Jacque Goodman, vice chancellor of continuing education and training.

“Right now we don’t have a specific timeline,” she said. “We’re really focused on other things right now such as making sure the students in our facilities are safe and following all COVID protocols. We’ll probably really start taking a look at things in the spring.”

When the Orpheum is back to its normal operations it will do so under new direction. Former director Bob Untiedt left his role with the Orpheum Theater at the end of October for a position in Johnson County. IVCCD is not pursuing filling the vacancy at this time because it is not actively operating the facility.

“We have not rushed to fill any kind of vacancy,” Goodman said. “This gives us some time to really look at what does the Orpheum need? That’s really been our focus. Looking at different models moving forward.”

Contact Joe Fisher at jfisher@timesrepublican.com.

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