Jury trials unlikely for the month of January


The Marion County Courthouse is shown in this file photo. On Tuesday, the Marion County Commission approved a plan to buildout the empty fourth floor of the building for use as offices and a courtroom. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

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Posted January 1, 2021 | Staff Report

All Marion County jury trials scheduled for the first two weeks of January have been cancelled, despite the court’s best attempts to schedule them and summon jurors.

This continues a months-long suspension of jury trials due to COVID-19 since March of 2020.

In a December 23rd email obtained by the Ocala Gazette, Marion County Administrative Judge Edward Scott notified other court personnel of the cancellations.

“In Marion, we have been staying at about 12% (positivity rate) for weeks now. This is over the 10 % threshold for conduction jury trials. In Marion we’re at 12.1% yesterday and we don’t see any changes for the foreseeable future… We are not cancelling the rest of January now, but that may well happen if our numbers don’t change.”

The threshold referenced by Judge Scott, is the local community’s COVID-19 seven-day positivity rate. In past orders by the Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles T. Canady he has charged “chief judges to monitor public health data and local conditions at least weekly to determine if a change in court operations, meaning a modification to operations, an amendment to the operational plan, or a reversion in phases, is necessary.”

Marion County courts transitioned to Phase 2 on Oct. 9 by order of Circuit Chief Judge Merritt. Under Phase 2, jury trials can be held, but only if the community positivity rates remain under the threshold.   

Unfortunately, the constant changes to the schedule have made it hard to keep the Clerk of Court’s website updated with the latest information, says Clerk of the Court David Ellspermann.