There are three criminal jury trials in Western New York this week. That may seem routine, but COVID-19 has blocked most jury trials for the last year.
The court system in Buffalo is using the vast, ceremonial courtroom in Old Erie County Hall to allow enough social distancing to begin allowing in-person jury trials. This means jurors will be in the regular seats, witnesses will be in the jury box and a maximum of 14 spectators will be allowed in the room, separated across the back row.
Paula Feroleto, administrative judge of the 8th Judicial District, said a second courtoom is needed as a jury room.
"There is a jury room next to the courtroom, but it's a small jury room where people could sit next to each other. But now we have to have a jury room that has at least 6' of space for everybody when you are in the jury room deliberating or meeting, at the beginning of the morning," she said.
There will also be a criminal trial in Niagara County this week. There will not be jury trials in city, village and town courts anytime soon.
"They all present challenges, but we have identified one courtroom in each of the eight counties where we can do a criminal jury trial," Feroleto said. "We're going to be starting some civil jury trials in April. That's not quite as challenging because that's eight jurors instead of 14."
Feroleto said the cases to be tried start with criminal matters going back to 2017. Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said it will all be slow, because only trials expected to take no more than a week will be tried in the near future.