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Federal courts begin to consider guidelines for reopening amid pandemic

Federal courts across the US are beginning to consider guidelines for reopening amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, contingent on local decision-making. By Paul LeBlanc and Ariane de Vogue, CNN

(CNN) -- Federal courts across the US are beginning to consider guidelines for reopening amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, contingent on local decision-making.

The Administrative Office of the US Courts has distributed guidelines to courts "for restoring operations that rely heavily on conditions in local communities and on objective data" from public health officials, according to a news release Monday.

A group of chief judges and court executives has also been created to develop protocols for how to safely resume grand jury and trial proceedings.

The guidelines comes as more states plan phased reopenings of businesses and other gathering places. In response to the pandemic, courts across the country have suspended juries because of the difficulty of empaneling representative samplings of the communities.

Older people and those with compromised health conditions especially have been reluctant to leave their homes to serve on juries.

The guidelines propose a set of criteria for courts to consider as they progress through four phases toward reopening.

Phase one -- which many courts are in now -- includes the postponement of all but necessary proceedings, with most employees working remotely. The second phase allows for an increase in court filings and the return of non-vulnerable individuals to the workplace.

In phase three, courtrooms, jury rooms and cafeterias reopen but with 6-foot physical-distancing restrictions in place, while phase four is a return to normal court operations.

Court officials "will need to tailor the application of these criteria to local circumstances," the guidelines say, and "should work with local public health and public safety agencies to ensure when these criteria are satisfied and minimize employee risk as they progress through the phases."

James Duff, director of the Administrative Office of the US Courts, said in a statement that while some courts "are beginning to consider preparations for on-site operations," many "are not close to this process yet."

"Issues such as testing potential jurors, social distancing considerations during jury assembly, voir dire, jury deliberations and many others are being considered," he said.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2018 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

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