Harris County District Clerk Marilyn Burgess is announcing plans for a limited return to jury service, with the first appearance date set for July 6, 2020. Jurors will report to NRG Arena for assembly, check in, and voir dire. The District Clerk’s Office (DCO) will be mailing out thousands of summons in the coming days for the early July jury calls.
A larger venue is necessary to assure social distancing and other public health measures during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. NRG Arena provides ample room for the six-foot separation requirement based on CDC guidelines and offers free parking for jurors.
Harris County has contracted for the space with the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation. “We thank Judge Hidalgo and the county commissioners for approving this space for our use,” said Ms. Burgess.
For now, NRG Arena will only be used for Grand Jury trial selection as the Texas Supreme Court has decided there will be no jury trials before August, with exceptions allowed by regional judges. The approved exceptions include calling for Grand Juries for five District Courts and for the Arkema trial. The Arkema trial is tentatively scheduled to resume at NRG Arena on July 13.
The DCO anticipates sending sufficient summons to get 500 prospective jurors for the five District Courts that will be convening Grand Jurors. With five panels of 100 jurors each, each court should be able to secure the 16 individuals needed (12 active jurors and four alternates) for each court.
On August 1, the DCO will begin calling jurors for other trials. They will be summoned to appear at NRG Arena for assembly and voir dire and will then be instructed to report to the courthouse for the trial on a subsequent day. Judges are working to ensure social distancing in the courtrooms and in jury deliberations.
Jurors will be provided free parking at NRG Arena by entering through a designated gate. They will undergo health screenings, including a temperature test. All staff, summoned jurors, and individuals
entering the NRG complex for jury related activities will be asked to wear a mask or face covering. Hand sanitizer will be provided throughout the venue.
“The size of this venue will allow ample social distancing to keep prospective jurors, members of the legal community, and DCO employees as safe as possible. I am very grateful to those who will be answering the call to serve in this historically challenging time,” added Ms. Burgess.
The DCO anticipates that jury calls will take place Monday through Friday. We expect a high call volume from the public with questions, so we will incorporate additional employees to accommodate these juror calls.
“We appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding during this time,” said DCO Jury Manager Aman Ahluwalia. “Jury service is as important as it has ever been, but we must do it safely and responsibly.”