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Jury Trials To Begin Outside Of Courthouses In April

Facing a backlog of thousands of jury trials that were put on hold during the pandemic, the state will resume trials in some unusual locations starting next month.

The Trial Court has signed agreements with Norfolk, Hampden, Franklin, Berkshire and Barnstable counties to use off-site locations for trials with up to six jurors. Many courthouses could not be used because of inadequate ventilation and space for appropriate distancing.

In Norfolk County, the venue is the banquet hall Lombardo’s in Randolph. In Hampden County, trials will be held at the Eastfield Mall Cinemas. In Barnstable County, the state will use the Cape Codder Resort in Hyannis. In Berkshire County, it's the Holiday Inn in Pittsfield. And in Franklin County, the venue is a previously leased courthouse in Greenfield.

The Trial Court says it is pursuing locations in Suffolk County, and is in active discussions to use the federal courthouse in Boston.

"The Trial Court is already conducting jury trials to juries of six in courthouses that we have determined have the space and ventilation systems needed to allow for social distancing and adequate air circulation," Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey said in an emailed statement. "We are expanding jury trials to off-site locations in counties where they are needed. The Trial Court is committed to the safety of its employees, court users and jurors, and we are mindful of the constitutional rights of all individuals involved."

Twenty-two jury trials have been held since trials resumed in January, including 19 criminal and three civil trials. The Trial Court is now in the second phase of resuming jury trials in courthouses that can accommodate juries amid the pandemic.

Data from the Trial Court shows about 3,700 jury trials were put on hold because of the pandemic.

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Deborah Becker Twitter Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.

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