For the first time since last March, jurors will be seated for trials in Santa Barbara County courtrooms.
Starting this week, a designated courtroom in each of the Santa Barbara and Santa Maria courthouses will resume jury trials.
Despite there being more than 20 courtrooms in Santa Barbara's Superior Court, officials say these courtrooms were identified as the only ones which could safely accommodating jury trials based on current COVID-19 guidelines.
Jury trials may move at a slower pace due to operations being scaled back. The jury assembly buildings which once accommodated up to 150 potential jurors now can only accommodate a maximum of 20 jurors.
However, court staff say they are trying out a process at the Santa Maria courtroom in an attempt to speed up jury selection. Jurors which are seated in the jury assembly building will be questioned via a direct stream to the courtroom. They say if the process works well in Santa Maria then it will also be used at the Santa Barbara courthouse.
The courtroom will look different from just over a year ago. Jurors will not be in the jury box, but instead seated throughout the courtroom. Plexiglass surrounds counsel tables, the witness box, judge's bench and court staff work areas. New air purifiers and filters were also installed in the jury assembly rooms and in the courtrooms.
There are also new safety protocols in place:
- Mandatory masks
- Temperature checks
- Social distancing
- Hand sanitizing stations throughout buildings
Court staff say the plan was approved by the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.