JANESVILLE — All Rock County Circuit Court in-person appearances and jury trials have been suspended until next year as COVID-19 infections continue to rise locally.
In a memo issued Wednesday, the county judiciary announced that all jury trials will be suspended until at least Jan. 19, 2021 and all in-person court appearances are suspended until further notice.
“Unfortunately, the overall public health situation in Rock County remains insufficient to allow for the safe resumption of jury trials,” a news release from the judges stated.
This marks yet another delay in jury trials and scaling back of in-person appearances since the coronavirus pandemic began in March, with the court moving back to Phase One of its reopening plan.
Rock County is part of the Fifth Judicial District in Wisconsin. Since March, only one jury trial has been held in Rock County, according to the release.
In September, the county resumed limited in-person court appearances for certain hearings, but not jury trials. Plans were to restart jury trials in Rock County on Oct. 14, but that plan was pushed back to Nov. 9 and now it is being delayed again until January due to the public health situation.
Between Nov. 1 and Nov. 16, the Rock County Health Department recorded 2,364 new COVID-19 cases and 14 virus-related deaths.
The spike in cases over that time represents nearly a third of all virus cases reported since the pandemic began last March. During the month of October, there were more positive cases reported in Rock County than all of the previous months of the pandemic combined. The number of daily hospitalizations due to the virus has doubled in just over two weeks, the health department reports.
The area continues to see a high rate of infection as Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) has Rock County infection rate as “critically high.”
“The situation in some ways is impossible to predict,” said Rock County Chief Judge Daniel Dillon. “It’s really an unprecedented situation and we have to be ready, willing and able to adapt to the situation as it progresses.”
Leading up to Wednesday’s announcement, Dillon said the county had been inundated with calls from potential jurors who had safety concerns about appearing for jury duty.
Branch One Judge Karl Hanson said the court continues to track a list of cases that involve a speedy trial demand as scheduling is pushed out into mid-2021.
“We maintain a list of those speed trial demands and schedule those first and we have to take into consideration a number of factors.”
Once jury trials resume, both Dillon and Hanson said the Rock County Jobs Center, 1900 Center Ave., in Janesville was still the potential “primary location” for trials, followed by the courthouse’s largest courtroom, Courtroom H where county board meetings were held before transitioning to virtual meetings.
“It seems in all likelihood we would ramp up first at the jobs center,” Dillon said.
Hanson said the county has continually risen to the occasion to meet challenges of the pandemic, noting that a plan is in progress to develop remote access points across Rock County for those without internet or computer access.
Final locations are still to-be-determined, but the sites would include two north of Janesville, two on Janesville’s south side and two in Beloit.
“This once again shows the adaptability and willingness to work on these challenges from everyone involved,” Hanson said.
Even as trials and in-person appearances are on-hold, hundreds of virtual appearances via Zoom continue for the county.
“We are pleased that everyone has come together to find solutions to problems we might not have been able to face when the pandemic began,” Dillon said.
All county judges will continue to consult with stakeholders and experts regarding the viability of resuming jury trials as the public health situation develops in the coming weeks. Potential jurors will receive additional information regarding the health, screening, and safety measures adopted by the court for jury trials going forward. Parties and attorneys with trials scheduled on or after Jan. 19 are asked to prepare for trials to proceed as scheduled, unless the judge presiding over the matter orders otherwise.
Public access to all hearings remains available through YouTube at: