Court extends restrictions; jury trials postponed until April
After an order by the Kentucky Supreme Court postponing jury trials until April 1 because of the COVID-19 surge across the state, Woodford Circuit Judge Brian Privett said his big concern is the people in jail. Because they are in custody, they have a right to a speedy trial and that’s why there’s a concern about not having jury trials, he said. “We have to get them tried,” he said, “to determine whether they’re innocent or guilty as soon as possible so they can either be released from jail or they go off to prison.” Privett described that as the number one priority when there’s a letdown in COVID. As a consequence, “we’re going to have a deadline, so we’re going to have to get them done quicker,” he said. “It’ll eventually help the trial load in the circuit, but we’re going to have a rough time until we get through that for the next, probably, year,” he said. “I’m already setting civil trials for March and April of 2022. Our calendar’s booked up that far.” Josh McWilliams, a defense attorney in Versailles, said some people can’t get out of jail on a bond because of the serious nature of their charges. He said that’s problematic when they also can’t get a jury trial. “Those things just don’t jive and, quite frankly, I think it’s probably unconstitutional,” said McWilliams. While he said he understands why the Kentucky Supreme Court extended its order postponing jury trials, an issue may arise if people who are incarcerated start filing motions for a speedy trial. “At some point,” he said, “if this goes on much longer, there’s going to be a bunch of attorneys who have no choice but to” file motions for speedy and public trials. Privett said his last jury trial was in January or February 2020, and his last in-person court proceeding was Friday, March 13, in Scott County. Overall, Privett said remote civil court motion hours run incredibly smoothly. Out-of-town attorneys no longer have to travel and sharing court documents via e-filing makes everything more expedient, he said. “After we return to normal (and COVID restrictions are lifted), we’re still going to have all of this technology that’s available to everybody and we’re going to continue to use it,” said Privett. In criminal court, he said remote platforms will likely continue to be used for inmate appearances. That eliminates security risks related to transporting an inmate and costs, he said. All jails in Kentucky are using compatible virtual platforms so inmates from counties outside of Woodford County are able to appear in court just as if they were here, Privett said. He said guilty pleas can be entered and sentencing can occur using an online platform, and that allows inmates to appear even if they are sick with an infectious disease. “It’s forced everybody to use more technology and to use it better,” Privett said. And he said there hasn’t really been any added cost because the courts are using existing technology. Currently, because of COVID restrictions, Privett said no one is allowed in the courtroom with him.