For the first time since October 2020, Lewis County residents are being summoned for jury duty.
Jury trials in Lewis County officially resume on March 1, and the first group of potential jurors are set to report to the community events building at the Southwest Washington County Fairgrounds by 9 a.m. that day.
The fairgrounds will be used for jury selection until further notice as part of Lewis County’s plan to ensure that the entire jury trial process follows recommended health and safety procedures for COVID-19.
Aside from a brief period of reopening in October, jury trials have been on hold in Lewis County Superior Court since March 2020, and Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer estimates that hundreds of cases are backlogged in the system as a result.
While Meyer does anticipate a fair number of cases to settle before they reach trial, he noted that a record number of felony cases were filed last year.
“So those don’t equal a very quiet rest of the year as far as trials go,” he said.
The space needed for everyone who needs to be in the courtroom for a full jury trial to effectively social distance means that there is only one courtroom in the Lewis County Law and Justice Center in Chehalis that they can use for Superior Court jury trials. There are two additional courtrooms that can technically handle District Court’s six-person jury trials, but Meyer said that District Court will likely only hold one jury trial at a time in that court due to the limited number of available judges.
Lewis County will also be using space at R.E. Bennett Elementary School in Chehalis for civil cases, and potentially for District Court and out-of-custody cases as well.
Due to the backlog, Meyer said that his office will “triage” cases, prioritizing in-custody cases and cases with victims before moving on to other cases.
“I think the court is maybe not outright telling us but they’re certainly signaling that continuances are going to be harder to get if they’re sought and so that means we’ll have to be ready,” Meyer said.
Criminal attorneys in the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office will be interchangeable for most cases, Meyer said, with the exception of sensitive or complex cases that require one attorney to follow it for the duration of the trial. Civil attorneys may also be brought in to do criminal cases as needed.
A jury trial in Superior Court typically takes between two or three days, Meyer said, while a District Court jury trial usually wraps up in a day due to the smaller jury and the fact that cases are typically simpler and require fewer witnesses and less deliberation than a Superior Court case. The longest jury trial in Lewis County Superior Court history lasted six weeks, Meyer said.
Trial time is also dependent on the time of the month, Meyer said, with cases usually moving through court slower as the jury panel goes through orientation.
“If (a case) falls on the first time that a jury panel is brought in, that usually adds about half a day because they have to go through orientation … it just takes a little bit longer. If they have already gone through orientation and they’ve been through the selection process, you can easily get that portion done in the morning with a quote-unquote ‘normal’ case,” Meyer said.
For more information on how to report for jury duty, visit https://lewiscountywa.gov/offices/clerk/jury-reporting-instructions/, or contact the clerk’s office at 360-740-1177.