Civil jury trials in Dallas County were halted on Monday until Jan. 28 in light of the “high number of Covid cases and the wildfire spread” of the Omicron variant, Maricela Moore, the local administrative district judge, told The Texas Lawbook.
The two-and-a-half-week pause does not apply to criminal trials in the Frank Crowley Courts Building, Judge Moore said.
Courts in Houston, Austin and other parts of the state had similarly throttled back jury proceedings or other hearings.
“Until Jan. 28 anyone who has a George Allen courthouse summons does not need to appear,” Moore said. “We’re going to continue to monitor the situation. If the numbers get better, starting in February those who have a jury summons should report. If the numbers remain as high as they are … we will proceed accordingly.”
Monday’s development comes two weeks after Dallas County returned to code red, the highest risk level for Covid-19 spread among the community.
Until Monday, a small number of in-person civil jury trials were moving forward in Dallas County and had been since civil jury trials resumed in June. Before the holidays juries were being picked in the courtrooms instead of the Central Jury Room, Judge Moore said.
Houston bumped its Covid risk level up to code red Monday, but jury trials have not been halted, said Judge Susan Brown, the presiding judge of the Eleventh Administrative Judicial Region of Texas, which includes Harris, Galveston Fort Bend, Wharton, Matagorda and Brazoria counties. The exception in the region is Galveston, which put jury trials on hold until next week under advice from its health department, Judge Brown said.
Since August 2020, Harris County has been conducting jury selection in downtown Houston’s NRG Stadium, a 125,000-square-foot facility owned by the county.
Oral arguments are continuing in Houston’s First and Fourteenth Courts of Appeals, but the courtroom capacity is limited and broadcasts are on YouTube so a larger audience can watch from afar, said Christopher A. Pine, the clerk for both Houston appellate courts.
Clerk Lisa Matz of Dallas’ Fifth Court of Appeals said that no immediate changes are in place since the justices have been conducting oral arguments via Zoom since 2020.
At the Supreme Court of Texas, oral arguments are still occurring this week, but the courtroom is closed to the public, Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht said.
Additional reporting by Osler McCarthy.