Jury trials suspended in Anchorage, Kenai and Homer as COVID-19 cases rise

First Judicial District in Southeast Alaska suspends all in-person proceedings for Sitka court
The Alaska Court System.
The Alaska Court System.(KTUU)
Published: Jul. 27, 2021 at 3:53 PM AKDT|Updated: Jul. 27, 2021 at 6:17 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Jury trials in Alaska’s Third Judicial District in Anchorage, Kenai and Homer have been suspended as COVID-19 cases continue to climb in those communities.

William F. Morse, the district’s presiding judge, issued an order last Thursday that suspended jury trials for the Kenai and Homer courts effective Monday through Aug. 6, with a review of that suspension on Aug. 4. Morse also issued an order Tuesday that suspends jury trials in Anchorage starting Wednesday.

The Anchorage suspension lasts through Aug. 13, with a review of that suspension on Aug. 11.

The suspensions are due to the continually rising average rates of COVID-19 in those communities, according to an email Mara Rabinowitz, special projects coordinator for the Alaska Court System, sent to Alaska’s News Source.

The order for the Kenai and Homer courts noted that, as of July 21, the average case rate for the Kenai Peninsula Borough — based on the average daily case rate over the previous 14 days per 100,000 people — was 25.6 cases per 100,000. On Tuesday, that average daily case rate was 35.4 per 100,000, according to state data.

The order suspending Anchorage jury trials noted that as of Monday, the average daily case rate for the Municipality of Anchorage was 25.6 per 100,000. State data on Tuesday showed the same average case rate for the municipality.

In the First Judicial District, which covers Southeast Alaska, Presiding Judge Amy Mead issued an order on Monday that suspends all in-person proceedings, including trials and grand jury, for the court in Sitka. This suspension will be reviewed on or before Aug. 6.

All attorneys, parties, witnesses and participants in cases in Sitka are required by this suspension to appear for hearings by phone or videoconference for civil proceedings, the order states. For criminal proceedings, the order requires the same, except that defendants in criminal cases and minors in delinquency proceedings can choose to appear in person for sentencing or disposition. So can family members or supporters for victims.

“The current situation in Sitka warrants a suspension,” the order reads.

It notes that as of July 23, the average daily case rate in Sitka was 201.1, based on the average daily case rate over the previous 14 days per 100,000 people. On Tuesday, state data showed the average daily case rate for the City and Borough of Sitka was 99.1 per 100,000.

Rabinowitz said in her email that jury trials in Anchorage, Kenai, Homer and Sitka had resumed as COVID-19 cases in those areas had previously been falling, and that jury trials continue in-person in other parts of the state.

The Alaska Court System is continuing to hold bench trials and other hearings in-person, by videoconference or by teleconference depending on the location, according to Rabinowitz.

For more information on jury trials around the state during the pandemic, visit the court system’s frequently asked questions page on its website.

Correction: This article has been updated to correct a typo that incorrectly stated people in the First Judicial District must attend hearings remotely, when the order applies to the Sitka court.

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