Lake County halts jury trials through Jan. 31 over COVID-19

Jury trials have been halted through Jan. 31 in Indiana’s second most populous county because of rising local infection rates and hospitalizations from COVID-19, a judge said Wednesday.

“We’re doing the best we can under very difficult circumstances,” Lake Superior Court Judge Salvador Vasquez said. “We’re doing our best to prioritize those in custody.”

Lake County appears to have the highest seven-day positivity rate in the state at 28%, followed by Newton County at 25%, according to the Indiana State Department of Health’s online dashboard.

“It’s a balance of what’s best for our staff and our community,” Vasquez said.

The Indiana Supreme Court ordered courts shut in late 2020 through March 2021 and subsequently gave county judges the power to shut down.

The Lake County courts will reevaluate the jury trial halt for February, the Post-Tribune reported.

Last week, jury trials in Marion County, home to Indianapolis, were canceled until at least Jan. 21 after nearly 40 court employees tested positive for COVID-19.

Lake County courts have kept strict COVID precautions in place, keeping infected inmates in their quarantine and asking other defendants with a positive test to stay home.

Judges, particularly Vasquez, have reinforced mask rules, reminding lawyers to wear masks when approaching witnesses and telling audience members during breaks to keep masks on.

Regular court hearings will continue.

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