EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – The El Paso County court system is taking its first steps back into normality as the first trials in months are taking place.
On Tuesday, a jury trial was held for an individual who was charged with violating a bond and protective order, helping the case move along. Slowly, the same will happen for cases that have remained stagnant for over a year.
Michael Cuccaro, executive director of the El Paso County Council of Judges, said the courts are appreciative of continued requirement of masks within the courthouse. And, that after 13 months without a jury trial, one trial was held last month and more are scheduled.
“Since jury trials are critical to the movement of our whole court system, we need to accelerate the number of jury trials we have as the pandemic risks allow,” Cuccaro told county commissioners on Monday.
The courts had reverted to digital processes and trials were paused last year when the novel coronavirus began to grip the region. El Paso health officials implemented orders that prevented large gatherings as a health precaution.
But as more and more El Pasoans receive their vaccines and with positive COVID-19 cases falling, some normalcy is returning to commercial and governmental activity.
“The judges are in the process of updating our jury trial procedures and those should be ready to post in the next couple of days,” Cuccaro told KTSm We are still very safety conscious at the courthouse and take special precautions to keep jurors distanced and protected.
He says there are efforts to improve the impacts of pandemic related issues with video-conferencing. The practice allows for flexibility and leads to safety, he added.
“Despite the good work of courts to process cases remotely, we still have a large number of the most serious cases that need to move forward,” he said.
There are requests for funding to maintain and enhance remote hearings with inmates at the El Paso County Detention Facility in Downtown and the Annex facility. Also, the courts hope to have kiosks outside the courthouse for support, and live assistance for self-represented litigants, which may help family courts, he added.
Cuccaro says there is also a request to implement a virtual trial program to help with space restrictions.
“Our ability to resolve cases, affects the economic environment and public safety,” he said. “The council of judges caseload management committee and staff are examining the active pending cases on our dockets now.”
El Paso County courts have been invited to participate in a data study spearheaded by experts at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, he added. It will provide an analysis of efficiencies practiced by various systems throughout the country.