Oregon law forces jury trials to continue, increasing virus risk
Earlier this month, more than 120 potential jurors showed up at the Multnomah County Courthouse in downtown Portland. Spaced six feet apart, court staff offered face masks.
They were summoned for the county's first trial in more than a month amid the coronavirus pandemic. That resumption of trials has made Oregon stand out nationally, and raised questions from some in the legal and health communities about the public's safety, even as parts of the state consider easing restrictions on gatherings and businesses.
Inside a courtroom, Circuit Court Judge Thomas Ryan greeted a small group of the potential jurors.
"I want to assure you — as I know you were told this morning — most of you have masks," he said. "If your mask rips or tears, or you don't have one and decide you want one, just let either or our court clerks know and we have masks for you."
Rather than sitting together in a jury box, the jurors were spread out around the courtroom, occupying the space usually reserved for the public.
"I have my mask up here; I wear it sometimes," Ryan said. "But the distances have been measured. And the distance between me and the clerks is more than six feet. And from me to the witness is more than six feet and amongst all of you is more than six feet."
Across the state, courts have been reduced to only their essential functions, under an order by Oregon's Supreme Court Chief Justice Martha Walters.
In March, there were 81 jury trials in Oregon, according to the Oregon Judicial Department. In April, just one in the entire state. The number of trials is once again starting to grow.
This OPB story is shared as part of a local media project to increase COVID-19 news coverage.
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