Jury trials resume as Philadelphia Common Pleas Court reopens to public

Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia
Photo credit KYW Newsradio, file
PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Jury duty resumes in Philadelphia Tuesday, as the Court of Common Pleas reopens to the public for the first time since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. 

However, it will look very different for jurors, defendants and lawyers.

If you’ve been summoned for jury duty, you must report, if possible. With about 15,000 cases, judges, consultants and lawyers have been working to get the courtrooms back up and running.

“No one has been through this, and it’s most difficult to move forward and to balance this virus and the safety of the Constitution,” said supervising Judge Leon Tucker, who runs the court’s criminal division. “There are people incarcerated, and some of those people are going to be guilty and some of those people are going to be found not guilty. 

“Nonetheless, under the Constitution, they must have a hearing or a trial that’s afforded to them.”

Only a few cases will be heard each day.

“We’ve got to reduce the number of cases as best we could,” he said. “It’s reduced to about 25% of what we had.”

Jurors will be in a separate room, socially distant, with Plexiglas separators. They will watch the trial via Zoom. The courthouse will also be cleaned at least twice a day.

The public will enter the courthouse in one door, and employees and judges in another. Loitering in the lobby is off-limits.

If a court matter can be resolved over the phone or by video conference, it will be. 

“The citizens need to feel safe, and we are doing the best we can to give them the comfort level of safety when they come in to do their civic duty to hear a trial,” Tucker added. “No one has the answers, so we are doing the best we can.”

Staff members are also working with people who may have health or family concerns, but they should call the court ahead of time with concerns at 215-683-7170.