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Indiana Supreme Court order suspending jury trials til March 1 certain to worsen backlog of cases

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A new state supreme court order suspending jury trials in Indiana until at least March 1 will increase a significant backlog of jury trials in Allen County.
GOP candidates seeking to become the next Allen Co. sheriff, with control over the county jail, are campaigning 15 months ahead of the Primary Election in 2022.

ALLEN COUNTY, Ind. (WPTA21) - Officials at the Allen County Courthouse had suspended jury trials locally until at least January 11 because of a surge of COVID-19 cases in the community.

Now, those trials are being pushed back even further, causing some real headaches.

Referring to the threat of spreading the novel coronavirus by way of in-person jury trials, the chief justice of Indiana's Supreme Court, Loretta Rush, emphasized the suspension of trials until March 1 is warranted, saying, "There is more we must do, and we must act now."

Allen County court officials who say there was about a one-year backlog of jury trials even before the pandemic, now expect that backlog to grow to a year and a half or longer.

We asked Allen Superior Court Criminal Judge Fran Gull about the backlog of cases.

"We have hundreds and hundreds of cases that are being pushed back on directive of the Indiana Supreme Court and, of course, we understand the concern that they have about litigants, the jurors and the parties, about everybody staying safe," Gull said.

William Lebrato, the head of Allen County's public defender office, is nervous about how this order will force those sitting in jail awaiting trial to wait longer.

"It is frustrating for my clients in particular, because a lot of these folks want their day in court, and their cases have been continued prior because of court congestion," Lebrato said.

Troy Hershberger, deputy chief for the Allen County Sheriff's Department, is hopeful that many of the cases where a jury trial is scheduled will get resolved through some type of plea bargain, allowing some of the inmates to be moved out of the county jail population.

But Hershberger says time will tell how the jury trial suspension will impact numbers at the jail.

The Allen County Prosecutor's office also weighed in on the jury trial suspension.

The office understands the health challenges posed by the COVID-19 threat, but a statement released read, in part, "The suspension of jury trials is frustrating for victims, witnesses, police and prosecutors", and that participants ..."need finality and closure".

The statement went on to say, "It is hard to heal when the trials are repeatedly delayed."

Jeff Neumeyer

Jeff Neumeyer is a reporter for WPTA.

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