Low Juror Turnout Could Escalate San Diego Superior Court Backlog

After suspending court operation for seven months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, San Diego Superior Court resumed operation on October 13, but juror turnout was alarmingly low. Of the 800 jurors summoned, only 41 (5%) showed up for service.

350 of those who received summons in September requested that their service be postponed, while the other 400 or so, simply didn't show up.

With respect to the low juror turnout, San Diego Superior Court Presiding Judge Lorna Alksne explained to Courthouse News, “I think people are afraid. I don’t want anyone to be here that doesn’t feel comfortable. Some people haven’t even been to the grocery store. But if you’re willing to go to the grocery store, you’re willing to have your hair done, you’re willing to go to church — those people are the ones I want.”

The court has complied with CDC guidelines in adapting social distancing measures in four of its courtrooms, with two being designated for jury selection interviews and two for actual hearings. Plexiglass panels separate the judge, jury, court staff, attorneys, and jurors.

Although two courtrooms are prepared for hearings, Judge Alksne says “If we don’t get enough jurors it doesn’t matter how many courtrooms we get set up.”

Of the 20,000 criminal cases pending, there are a backlog of 2,000 that are ready for trial. San Diego County Public Defender’s Office and District Attorney’s Office have prioritizes which criminal trials should be heard first for the courts. At this time, San Diego Superior Court expects to hold 10 criminal trials by the end of 2020.

Although civil trails have also resumed and will be heard before a judge instead of a jury, Judge Alksne said that for the most part “civil jury trials will be put on the back burner.”

Judge Alksne asks anyone who receives a summoned to please show up for service to help the justice system move forward and make up for lost time.

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