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Jurors To Report For First San Diego Criminal Trial Since Pandemic Began

The San Diego Superior Court is shown in this undated photo.

Photo by Milan Kovacevic

Above: The San Diego Superior Court is shown in this undated photo.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Tuesday for the first criminal trial to be held in San Diego Superior Court since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since March, San Diego County courthouses have been largely closed to the general public, with most matters held remotely, in which neither defendants, nor attorneys have appeared in person.

Trials have been on hold as the court system grappled with the obstacles involved with bringing members of the public into the courthouses for jury duty.

Jury summons were mailed out September. Court officials hope a number of precautionary measures — including remodeled courtrooms and a reduced juror pool — will help maintain safety for jurors, defendants, attorneys and court staff.

While jury duty usually involves the courts calling hundreds of potential jurors, Tuesday will see perhaps 20% of the typical number reporting to the downtown San Diego Central Courthouse.

Tuesday's batch of prospective jurors will be selected to sit on the trial of 61-year-old John Homer Scarborough, who is charged with assault with a deadly weapon and elder abuse.

With Scarborough's trial, San Diego County courts will begin chipping away at an ever-increasing trial backlog, with the trial possibly serving as a test case for restarting jury trials at the county's other courthouses in Chula Vista, El Cajon and Vista.

"As we safely and cautiously resume trials with a smaller potential juror pool, we will start by seating our first jury at the Central Courthouse before we expand to the other courthouses," Superior Court Presiding Judge Lorna Alksne said. "We know this will be an uphill battle to work through all of the pending jury trials and we will only be able to accomplish this with the support of jurors willing to fulfill this public service. It is more critical than ever that you report for jury duty if summoned."

While Scarborough's case is the first criminal trial in San Diego state court, the local federal courts have been holding a limited number of jury trials and other in-person proceedings. The San Diego Superior Court also brought one jury panel back into the courthouse this summer to render a verdict on a murder trial that was interrupted by the pandemic.

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