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How 'Stay at Home' is affecting Minnesota's courtrooms

Court hearings are still happening for emergency situations, but jury trials are on hold.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Virtually everything has been affected by Minnesota's Stay at Home order, including our court system.

That may leave you with plenty of questions like, do I still have to report for jury duty? Or, what happens with my court case?

"We did make a decision based on the guidance from the state and national health experts to suspend a lot of our in-court appearances and move to a more remote environment," said Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea.

Chief Justice Gildea says they too are now technology gurus. 

"There is work going on all across the state of Minnesota remotely on all case types," Justice Gildea said. "Judges are reading documents that lawyers have submitted electronically and maybe having these video conferencing hearings so we can continue to do work on all of our case types at this time."

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Court hearings are still happening for emergency situations, but things like jury trials are on hold.

"If you think about a typical felony case, for example, we need 12 jurors and maybe one or two alternates, you need a judge, you need a court staff person to be in the courtroom to take the record, you need the lawyers and the defendant and witnesses come and go," Justice Gildea said. "Just with that minimum number we're already kind of double what the health guidance tells us we're supposed to have in the room. So that was really what drove us to decide for 30 days we're not going to start any new jury trials. The right to a jury trial is one of the fundamental rights that is fundamental to our democracy and those rights will be honored."

So, you're off the hook for jury duty, right? Well, kind of.

"People are probably still getting summonses and they get those in the mail and they should respond. There's some information that you are required to provide and you can do that electronically or in writing, but we're not requiring people to show up for these next 30 days," Justice Gildea said.

Justice Gildea knows there will be a backlog of cases that comes out of this, but she says they've already thought of that.

"We have a group that's right now looking at how we're going to process our cases when we get to the other side of this pandemic. I think we really are going to have to be creative and a renewed commitment to innovation and thinking about how we can tackle this backlog," she said. "If people have concerns or questions, they still have access to the court system."

"I want people to know that the Minnesota judiciary is committed to carrying out our constitutional obligation to provide Minnesotans with access to justice," Justice Gildea said.

If you have a question or are looking for specific information there is a help center on mncourts.gov, or you can call (651) 435-6535, Monday through Friday, between 8:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. 

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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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