Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Courts Reopening With Backlog of Cases

Backlog of 200 cases await a speedy trial. Courtrooms with social distancing will be used.

By - Jun 24th, 2020 10:12 am
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Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by Sulfur at English Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by Sulfur at English Wikipedia (GFDL) or (CC-BY-SA-3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Milwaukee County Courts are beginning to re-open and court officials have been working to prepare at least two courtrooms for jury trials in a pandemic.

The First Judicial District, which encompasses Milwaukee County, has been largely shut down for months. But Chief Judge Mary E. Triggiano announced Tuesday that two court rooms are now ready to hold jury trials. 

There’s a backlog of 200 cases awaiting a speedy trial, Triggiano said. “It really is imperative that we open the courts to protect individuals rights to their speedy trials,” she said. “So the jury trials that we’re opening up are really, really important right now.”

These speedy trials are cases where individuals have been waiting in custody for their day in court. “Families have been disrupted and there’s no closure for people who are awaiting their trials,” Triggiano said.

The courts will hear criminal cases first, and court officials will begin with the oldest cases and work forward.

The courts are attempting to get through the backlog as quickly as possible, “but also as safe as possible,” Triggiano said.

The court has been working with public health consultants to prepare at least two court rooms and a room for jurors to meet in. Masks will be mandatory, and provided, at the courthouse. And plexi-glass barriers have been installed at the witness stand and between the tables for attorneys so that, should a judge deem it necessary, masks can be temporarily removed, mostly so people can “see a witnesses face for facial expressions and credibility purposes,” Triggiano said.

Triggiano noted that since not everyone will be able to perform their jury duties due to health risks or other challenges, it is important that anyone who can should serve so that the courts can “provide individuals their right to a fair jury trial.”

“I would also say that the courts certainly bear some responsibility for creating a more racially equitable system,” Triggiano said. Many of the people awaiting trial are people of color. “And that’s why it’s absolutely imperative that individuals have their cases presented to a jury of their peers.”

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