Pasco County jury trials suspended as coronavirus cases rise

Jury trials in Pinellas, which has a lower positivity rate than Pasco, are set to continue.
Anthony Rondolino, the chief judge of the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court decided to suspend all jury trials in Pasco County until Jan. 4 due to a surge in coronavirus cases.
Anthony Rondolino, the chief judge of the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court decided to suspend all jury trials in Pasco County until Jan. 4 due to a surge in coronavirus cases. [ ALICE HERDEN | SPECIAL TO THE TI | Special to the Times ]
Published Dec. 9, 2020

Jury trials in Pasco County will be suspended until at least January after the county’s coronavirus positivity rate spiked to more than 10 percent, according to court officials.

Anthony Rondolino, the chief judge of the Sixth Judicial Circuit, made the decision Tuesday after reviewing coronavirus data, including the positivity rate, hospitalizations and emergency department visits, all which have increased, said Stephen Thompson, spokesman for the Sixth Judicial Circuit, in an email.

Related: Jurors return to Tampa courtrooms with masks and sanitizer

When the positivity rate is too high, it can indicate there isn’t enough widespread testing to capture all mild and asymptomatic cases in a region, allowing spread to continue. The World Health Organization set a recommendation for a 5 percent positivity rate or below.

Cases in Pasco County have been on the rise since early October, according to data from the Florida Department of Health. From late October to early December, the positivity rate in the county more than doubled.

The suspension will last until at least Jan. 4, but can be extended if caseloads don’t decrease, Thompson said. During the suspension, juries will not be impaneled in New Port Richey or Dade City’s courthouses and witnesses testifying will not have to report to the courthouse, he said. All in-person jury trials will be put on hold.

Jury trials in Pinellas County will still continue.

Statewide, jury trials were suspended in March by the state’s supreme court, but resumed in October. The 13th Judicial Circuit, which includes Hillsborough County, was the first Tampa Bay area court system to return to jury trials. A week later, Pasco and Pinellas trials started again. The Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender put in an emergency petition in late October saying conditions were still too dangerous to hold trials, but the 2nd District Court of Appeal denied the petition.

Hillsborough County is still holding in-person trials at this time, but the 13th district chief judge released an administrative order limiting who can come in to the courthouse in August.

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