Jury trials resume in Grand Isle for 1st time since pandemic
GRAND ISLE, Vt. (WCAX) - For the first time since the start of the pandemic, trials are underway in every courthouse in Vermont.
The Grand Isle County Courthouse held its first jury trial in nearly 2.5 years Wednesday. It’s the last courthouse in Vermont to be fully functional again. But Wednesday’s trial was only possible because of warm, summer weather.
It’s been a long road for all the courthouses to open in Vermont as the pandemic evolved. HVAC issues, space issues and, above all, fears of spreading the virus have prevented some courthouses, like Grand Isle, from hosting trials. But now, Grand Isle is finally open for jury trials once again.
The court was called to order for a case involving charges of criminal trespassing and stalking.
With the court system still operating under a COVID emergency, this trial could only happen with the windows open to allow for airflow.
“The whole effort has been geared to how can we best assure safety addressing safety considerations and the constitutional protections that the litigants are entitled to,” said Teri Corsones, the new state court administrator for the Vermont Judiciary.
Corsones says they are delighted to finally have the Grand Isle Courthouse open and able to conduct trials, as is the case now in all 14 counties.
“I am so impressed with the judges and the court staff, the litigants who have all corroborated so well to try to adapt and respond to these new needs, but I think the system is definitely stronger in a lot of respects as a result,” Corsones said.
Grand Isle State’s Attorney Doug DiSabito says justice was finally served in Grand Isle County on Wednesday. DiSabito had been critical of the former judiciary leadership and says since the new court administrator and chief superior judge have taken over it’s been a whole new world.
“The court really pulled this together and I am so appreciative of all the work that the court administrator’s office had done and the court staff here pulling this all together... It just went off flawlessly and I’m just so happy we are back on track,” DiSabito said.
The judicial emergency not only laid out the safety specifics for in-person operations during the pandemic, but it also created rules and procedures for conducting court hearings remotely. That was not the practice prior to the pandemic.
The current emergency order is set to expire at the end of August. If it is extended again it will be to allow these new ways of doing business to continue while the judiciary works on permanent rules for remote operations.
“If it’s extended it would be for those purposes to take advantage of the beneficial changes that have come about because of the pandemic and AO 49 and making them permanent,” Corsones said.
Backlogs throughout the court system still exist but the administrator says they are working to prioritize what needs to get done to get the health of the entire judicial system back on an even keel.
In Grand Isle, thanks to continuing HVAC improvement to the historic courthouse, jury trials will be able to continue year-round.
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