After the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chief Judge Thomas Kelly Ryan of the District Court in Kansas contacted Kansas City PBS wanting to know what it would take to bring citizens back into the courtroom. Since the pandemic began, there had been virtually no criminal jury trials anywhere in the country and area courts were worried they would have trouble convincing 12 people to sit together in a courtroom during COVID-19.
The district court in collaboration with our county Bar Association agreed to send out 12 official jury notices to citizens who were asked to join us on a video call. We had no say in who was chosen. These citizens were selected like a regular jury.
Their candid exchanges about everything from wearing masks to sitting next to each other for hours in a courtroom were the basis for a program that has been shared with courts across the state of Kansas and is already changing the way area courts are working to reconvene juries.
Seldom do we engage in work that has such instantaneous results. By answering a real life dilemma brought to us by an important community player, “Justice Deferred” prompted swift change.
The Kansas Supreme Court’s Office of Judicial Administration shared the entire Zoom jury feed with district court administrators across the state. In the court featured in the broadcast, administrators said they planned to add temperature checks and were looking to purchase autonomous machines so staff would not have to perform manual checks. They also intended to add additional breaks for jurors after hearing concerns about mask fatigue.
Since broadcast, Kansas City PBS has been approached by other organizations interested in using the Zoom jury concept to answer critical questions they are confronting. For example, an area library was looking for input on how to safely reopen to the public and a local government was interested in bringing together a group of citizens to help prioritize budget cuts.