The quarterly jury trial period set to begin Jan. 4 in Piatt County has been pushed back to April of 2021.
“Due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the Piatt County Circuit Court will reduce jury trial operations during the January 2021 jury term in order to minimize personal contact among litigants, witnesses, court personnel, practicing attorneys, jurors, and members of the public, and to deter the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” said presiding Judge Dana Rhoades in an administrative order issued Friday (Dec. 11).
“All civil and criminal cases currently allotted for the Piatt County January 2021 jury term will be continued to the Piatt County April 2021 jury term,” she added.
Rhoades said there is “not adequate social distancing capability within the Piatt County courthouse” to allow jurors, witnesses, court personnel and attorneys to be in the same room for the lengthy periods of time that are necessary during trials.
Piatt County generally sets aside two-week periods every three months for jury trials.
State’s Attorney Sarah Perry, sworn into office on Dec. 2, said the delay will help her and a new public defender get familiar with existing cases.
“I am worried about a possible backlog,” she said. “But we will probably be able to settle many of those cases by then.”
If the COVID-19 crisis has not eased by April, Perry said alternate arrangements – such as remote setups for a courtroom – may need to be considered.
One of the delayed trials is that of Mason Brown and Christie Brown, who are charged with neglect after the death of his uncle and her brother, Ronald Blankenship in his Monticello home in 2018. They also face charges of aggravated cruelty to animals.
Piatt County’s last jury trial was in January of 2020. Monticello Middle School was set to host proceedings in July, but cases were settled before they reached trial.