Jury trials, other Alaska court hearings suspended into April

View of the jury box in one of the courtrooms in the Dimond Courthouse in Juneau.
View of the jury box in one of the courtrooms in the Dimond Courthouse in Juneau. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

There will be no new jury trials in Alaska courtrooms through at least April 3.

Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Joel Bolger issued an order March 19 suspending trials and most grand juries to stem the spread of coronavirus.

Bolger’s order also temporarily suspends the rule requiring a speedy trial for defendants.

Low-priority court proceedings, such as small claims cases and minor offense trials, will be postponed.

But courthouses will still be open and operating for high-priority matters like sentencing hearings, child-in-need-of-aid (CINA) cases, domestic violence and mental health hearings, and even quarantine and isolation proceedings.

Visitors are being asked not to enter a courthouse if they are sick, returned from out-of-state in the last 14 days, or have been in contact with someone who has just returned.

Neil Nesheim, court administrator for Southeast Alaska, said everyone is being encouraged to participate in court hearings without physically appearing in courtrooms.

“I think it’s new territory for everybody,” Nesheim said. “I think we’re still kind of learning as we go along, and I think what we’re really doing is we’re definitely practicing social distancing, which is what everybody is encouraged to do. And it’s forced us to take a new look at how we do business, especially from the telephonic standpoint.”

Links to instructions about how to call into a court hearing are posted on the Alaska Court System’s homepage.

Nesheim is working from home. He’s following court system guidelines in the middle of a 14-day self-quarantine because his in-laws recently came up for a visit.

“We do that as a precautionary measure, of course, because you just don’t know, with people who’ve traveled or family members who’ve traveled, just what their exposure levels (have) been,” Nesheim said.

Nesheim said six court employees in Southeast Alaska are self-quarantined and there are about three-dozen statewide.

He said a number of additional employees are working from home because they have no child care options while schools are closed.


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