Marion County jury trials canceled until further notice

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 14, 2021 | Ocala Gazette Staff

All Marion County trials are off until further notice, according to an order from the chief judge of the 5th Judicial Circuit.

The latest order continues a months-long suspension of jury and grand jury trials due to COVID-19 dating back to March.

Chief Judge Daniel B. Merritt issued the order Jan. 13, amending the Court’s COVID-19 Operational Plan for the seventh time, citing high COVID-19 positivity rates for the week ending Jan. 9 for all five counties that cover the circuit.

The positivity rates include Marion County, 17.4%, Lake County, 14.4%, Sumter County, 13.9%, Citrus County, 12.4% and Hernando County, 11.7%.

Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles T. Canady has previously ordered local communities have a seven-day average positivity rate under 10 or 11 percent for a certain length of time before in-person hearings resume.

Since the beginning of December, Marion County has tried to summon jurors and hold trials, only to have to cancel them at the last minute due to local high COVID-19 numbers.

While Merritt’s order means clerks of the court in the district do not need to summon jurors, it doesn’t mean judges have to stop setting future trial dates in the hopes the positivity rate falls, said Jeffrey Fueller, a spokesman for the circuit court.

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