Alaska Court System suspends new trials in Anchorage, Palmer, Kenai

The seal of the State of Alaska hangs behind the dais where Alaska Supreme Court justices normally hear cases in the Boney Courthouse in Anchorage. (Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Jury trials in Anchorage, Palmer and Kenai have been suspended next week to slow the spread of coronavirus, the Alaska Court System said Friday.

Six jury trials were scheduled in Anchorage and would have required more than 200 potential jurors to assemble, the court system said in a prepared statement.

Jury trials that have already started and grand jury proceedings will continue. Trials scheduled in the the First Judicial District, which encompasses most of Southeast Alaska, and the Fourth Judicial District, which is most of Western Alaska, will also continue as scheduled.

The court system says it will continue to perform “essential functions” and ensure due process.

Those functions include domestic violence and emergency mental health proceedings, and bail and emergency child welfare hearings. The court system says that courthouses statewide have taken steps to reduce COVID-19 transmission, including “social distancing” measures.

The court system’s deputy administrative director, Doug Wooliver, said officials are coordinating with judges, court administrative staff and other criminal justice agencies like the state Public Defender Agency, Department of Corrections and the Department of Law.

“If they make changes in their policies, or we make changes in our operations, we all affect each other’s,” Wooliver said.

Other states and jurisdictions in the Lower 48 have already suspended jury trials or restricted access to courthouses.

The Alaska Court System is currently asking Alaskans not to come to their local courthouse if they are sick or believe they have been exposed to COVID-19, even if they are scheduled to appear in court or have been summoned for jury service. Instead, court officials say they should call the courthouse to determine next steps.

Reporter Nat Herz contributed to this story from Anchorage.

Matt Miller is a reporter at KTOO in Juneau.

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