Kentucky Courts Update: Jury Trials Return in May

Written by Jim Worthington on March 3, 2021

Many Kentucky courtrooms are going to feel a little more normal beginning April 1, 2021, as the Kentucky Supreme Court unanimously entered Amended Order 2021-07, setting out ground rules for grand juries and jury trials. Jury trials will return to our courthouses after more than a year’s absence.

Under the Order, grand juries will resume on April 1, 2021; jury trials may begin a month later. Curiously, the Order uses the archaic Law French term “petit jury.” Legal and language scholars will appreciate that nod to the history of courts using more formal language for court pronouncements. For readability and client-friendliness, however, we’ll just call them “jury trials.” By any name, they should return on May 1st.

The courts will follow special procedures to try to keep everyone safe, incorporating remote audio and video technology for juror orientation and social distancing during voir dire—two phases of the process when potential jurors have traditionally been packed together like a certain salty fish.

While the return of in-person court is an important move toward a full recovery of our lives post-COVID, a number of provisions in the Order are a stark reminder that we are still in the grips of a pandemic. A whole section provides for virus-related postponements and excusals:  jurors whose health or inability to wear a mask precludes their safely fulfilling their duties shall have their jury service postponed to a later date; the Court must grant a “reasonable continuance” for attorneys or their clients who are “ill or in a high-risk category or are caring for someone who is ill or in a high-risk category.” And perhaps most poignant, as it reminds us of the tragic economic impact of this pandemic:

Jurors who were laid off, became unemployed, or otherwise suffered an economic loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and who show they would suffer further economic loss as a result of jury service, shall be excused for undue hardship.

Am. Order § A(3)(c) (Feb. 25, 2021).

Probate court matters (where most of my cases are) will continue to be held using video technology, as they have been for about a year, as the Kentucky Supreme Court also entered another unanimous Order, Amended Order 2020-71, in November that continued many protocols that had been put into place in the spring of 2020. That Order kept courts closed except for emergency in-person hearings and required the chief district and chief circuit court judges to adopt local protocols. The Jefferson District Court adopted its protocol effective January 1, 2021, requiring all matters to be heard remotely. It remains in effect until further notice.

Look to these pages for an update when that changes. In the meantime, stay safe and well—we will get through this together.