Cass County jury trials again on hold after spike in COVID-19 cases

Published 10:02 am Tuesday, April 6, 2021

CASSOPOLIS – Jury trials are again on hold in Cass County after a recent spike in COVID-19 cases. They had been scheduled to start next week on April 12.

Cass County Chief Judge Sue Dobrich reported Monday that the county’s positivity rate on a seven-day average is above the 10 percent level. State court officials have mandated that counties’ positivity rate average has to be below the 10 percent level to conduct jury trials.

Information on the Michigan Safe Start Map shows that the Cass County positivity rate was 15.4 percent on a seven-day average and was at 17.4 percent out of 87 tests administered on one day-on March 31.

This is the second time since the start of the pandemic where Cass County court officials have prepared to restart jury trials only to have to pull back when positivity rates rose. The first time it happened was last fall when another wave of COVID-19 cases was surging.

Dobrich and other court officials have been preparing the Law & Courts Building for months to get ready for jury trials. Those changes include equipping the Circuit Courtroom with audio/visual technology to be able to broadcast proceedings on the court’s YouTube page as well as put up physical plexiglass barriers to separate and protect people.

The new procedures will call for using the building’s probate courtroom for jury selection to allow for social distancing and then having jurors sit spaced out in the jury box and around the courtroom during trials. Jury deliberations will also take place in the probate courtroom.

Everyone in the courtroom will be required to wear masks although exceptions will be made for the attorneys and the witnesses. The attorneys will be allowed to take off their masks to ask questions and witnesses will not wear masks so jurors will be able to see their faces and the court recorder can record their testimony.

The first trial that was to have been held starting next week was that of former Southwestern Michigan College instructor George Field. No new date has yet been set for that trial. Field is accused of criminal sexual conduct, perjury and insurance fraud dating back as far as 2015. He was charged in the fall of 2017, shortly after he was fired by SMC.