A local administrative judge on Wednesday suspended in-person jury trials in Bexar County amid sharply rising coronavirus case numbers.
Judge Ron Rangel of the 379th District Court ordered the suspension less than a week after he issued a mask mandate for all courts in Bexar County. Rangel serves as the local administrative judge and has oversight on how courts are run.
The suspension only affects in-person jury trials that have not yet started. There are currently three ongoing jury trials that are happening in person, Rangel said, and they should all be completed within a week.
Rangel said that he decided to suspend in-person jury trials after speaking with local health experts, including two infectious disease doctors.
“It’s clear COVID-19 infections are spiking dramatically in the last several weeks,” he said. “The in-court mask mandate has been difficult to enforce because the other non-judicial elected officials are bound by Governor Abbott’s order prohibiting them from enforcing COVID restrictions. Every one of them has been very clear that they support the mask order and the suspension of in-person jury trials.”
Rangel first suspended in-person jury trials in March 2020 at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. They resumed in June 2021, with social distancing and mask requirements in place. The judiciary is not affected by Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order barring governmental entities from imposing mask mandates.
Though this new suspension will only exacerbate the case backlog caused by the pandemic, Rangel said he believes that backlog will be alleviated eventually.
“Local judges have learned how to run courts as efficiently as possible during a pandemic; we do expect this particular COVID spike to [peak] in late August,” he said. “I do believe we will resume in-person jury trials shortly thereafter.”
The mask mandate in Bexar County courthouses remains in place, according to Rangel’s order. He also wrote that all courts should consider moving to remote proceedings “as much as possible.”
Rangel also included information on how to get a coronavirus vaccine in his order.
“Anyone who is eligible for the vaccine and has not yet been vaccinated is strongly encouraged to do so,” he wrote. “For more information on how to obtain a vaccine visit, [go to] https://covid19.sanantonio.gov/What-YOU-Can-Do/Vaccination or call 210-207-6000 and select option 18 for the COVID-19 hotline.”
Virtual jury trials in civil courts are not affected by this order, Rangel said.