For general safety protocols, visit COVID-19 Safety Measures on this website. Also, consult the COVID-19 Operating Plan for the Harris County Judiciary: District Courts, County Courts at Law & Probate Courts currently on file with the Office of Court Administration. Consult the Presiding Judge of the Court for specific court procedures.
I Am A Lawyer
The following are frequently asked questions submitted by members of the bar regarding jury call, voir dire, and jury trials in times of COVID-19.
Will we continue to use NRG arena to pick jurors if Harris County opens a pop-up hospital at NRG?
No. In the event that NRG Arena is used as a COVID-19 treatment area, all Jury Call and Voir Dire activity at NRG Arena will cease.
Are we staggering juror entrance times? Exit times?
Yes. Prospective jurors have specific staggered reporting times to account for social distancing.
Will people be required to wear face coverings?
Yes. In addition to face coverings, prospective jurors will be provided with a face shield.
What happens if someone refuses to wear a face covering?
The presiding judge of each court decides the appropriate action to take if anyone (juror, lawyer, party, witness or staff member) refuses to wear a face covering.
What happens if someone is wearing their face covering incorrectly?
The presiding judge of each court decides on enforcement of face covering requirements as problems arise in the courtroom or Voir Dire Courtroom. Outside the courtroom or Voir Dire Courtroom, Harris County Sherriff’s Office enforces the face covering and social distancing requirements.
Are lawyers restricted in their movements in the Voir Dire Courtroom or Trial Courtroom?
Potentially. Some areas are “staff only.” Additionally, social distancing is required. The presiding judge of each court decides the restrictions, if any, on movement in the Voir Dire Courtroom or Trial Courtroom.
What happens when someone says that they don’t have symptoms at the screeners, but then displaying symptoms on the panel (i.e. coughing or sneezing)?
The presiding judge of each court decides the appropriate action to take upon the presence of someone displaying symptoms in the jury panel.
Will concern for health be a sufficient reason for a continuance?
The presiding judge of each court determines whether to grant or deny a request for continuance and reviews each request on a case by case basis.
What sort of proof is required for health concerns?
Raise your concerns to the presiding judge of the court. The court reviews each request on a case by case basis.
Is the trial court obligated to receive consent by all parties prior to assigning a case for a jury trial?
No. Review the Texas Supreme Court’s Emergency Orders for the latest requirements.
Jury Call/Voir Dire Questions
Will the public be allowed to view the Voir Dire? If so how?
The presiding judge of each court decides how to comply with the Open Courts Doctrine.
What will be the physical proximity between the prospective jurors and me?
Counsel may interact with prospective jurors while practicing social distancing. For specific restrictions, contact the particular court.
Will we have microphones or ability to have PowerPoint?
Microphones are available at counsel table and near each prospective juror. Projectors, screens and monitors will not be available at NRG Arena.
Where will panels take breaks?
Panels remain in their seats during breaks.
How will the prospective jurors be seated?
Prospective jurors are seated six feet apart from each other to practice social distancing.
What technology will be available at NRG?
Very limited technology is available to counsel at NRG Arena. Wireless internet is available at NRG.
Trial & Courtroom Questions
What are the safety measures in the courtroom?
Face coverings and social distancing are required in the courtroom. Sneeze guards have been installed. The presiding judge of each court determines additional safety measures in the courtroom. Contact the specific court to determine particular protocols.
Will I be able to communicate with my clients during trial?
The presiding judge of each court decides the appropriate procedure for taking breaks for client conferences.
Where will the jury take breaks?
The presiding judge of each court decides where the jury panel can take a break to account for social distancing.
Will witnesses wear face coverings on the stand? If they are not comfortable with a face shield will they be allowed to wear a face covering?
The presiding judge of each court decides witness testimony protocols.
What will happen if a juror is exposed to COVID-19 during trial/after trial?
The presiding judge of each court determines what will happen.
What if a witness, juror, judge, staff, or party displaying symptoms mid-trial, but has passed the “screening”?
The presiding judge of each court determines what will happen. If a concern arises, you should raise it with the Presiding Judge at that time.
Where will the jury be seated?
The presiding judge of each court determines where the jury will be seated. In most cases the jury will be seated in the gallery to account for social distancing.
Where will Counsel be seated?
The presiding judge of each court determines where counsel will sit.
Will translators be available during trial?
Yes, but it is each Party’s responsibility to arrange for and pay translators unless an exception exists under the law.