Marshall County court system severely backlogged

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MARSHALL COUNTY, Ala. – Courts are slowly getting back in session as the COVID-19 crisis continues. But with the previous stoppage of trials, comes problems for those accused of wrongdoing, the attorneys, and the judges.

Masks are mandatory inside the courtrooms and there are markings on the benches encouraging social distancing.

“We just don’t want a lot of people sitting within the courtroom, crowding the place. Because our large courtroom really only holds 18 if you social distance,” said Marshall County circuit judge Chris Abel.

Several weeks of jury trials were cancelled during the courthouse closure earlier in the pandemic.

Abel said because of that, the biggest problem they are facing is a huge backlog, specifically of civil trials.

“Civil lawsuits, car accidents, breaches of contracts, medical malpractice, those cases have really stacked up. Unfortunately, where on a normal trial week, on civil week, I may have 10 to 12 cases that are set. My first week in October, I think I have 60 something cases,” explained Abel.

Abel said he and Judge Tim Riley take on the criminal and civil trials and can typically only do one or two each week.

“It’s going to make it tough. We’re going to have to add some more weeks,” said Abel.

Abel told WHNT News 19 as of right now, jury summons cannot go out until July 14, 2020 and that jury trials cannot begin until September 14, 2020.

He added their next scheduled criminal week is September 28, 2020, while the first civil is set for October 13, 2020.

“The Supreme Court still has some reservations that they may push those dates back even further especially with the numbers still increasing,” explained Abel.

Another big concern is low juror turnout.

“We may have a lot of individuals that just, they’re going to have reluctance to come down here when they get that jury summons. That’s the fear,” said Abel.

He said while some think there should be no jury trials this year, those accused of crime or wrongdoing deserve their day in court.

Abel told WHNT News 19 the state is working on a plan for online jury check ins.

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