Philadelphia courts work toward new normal; jury trials suspended until September

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia courts remain closed, with both civil and criminal jury trials suspended until at least Sept. 8. Court officials are working to develop protocols for when trials resume. 

Courts have remained functional for essential services, such as protection from abuse, arraignments and bail hearings. Now, judicial leaders are working with committees in each division — family, civil and criminal — on how to slowly roll out to full operation, and start a new normal. 

With SEPTA now back to full service, more court workers have been able to get in and assist with the backup, though some still have child care, family or health issues preventing them from coming in. 

Everyone who enters the court buildings must wear a mask. Each staffer has been given two. There will be limited access to court buildings. Officials say they will follow the city’s lead on whether they need to implement screenings.

Judicial officials are also looking at staggered start times for court proceedings, instead of the normal 9 a.m. start time for all.

Only four people will be allowed in elevators at a time at the Criminal Justice Center and family court. In City Hall, only two at a time will be allowed.

Judicial leaders say they are prioritizing which jury trial should go first in both criminal and civil divisions, and how they will work around social distancing. 

Preliminary hearings for those still in prison will likely be heard first, while hearings for those who are out on bail will follow. 

Some hearings, like guilty pleas, are being held over Zoom, and court officials say they are working to expand the technology in each of the open courtrooms to give more access to the public.