WHEN the COVID-19 pandemic first struck the state this spring, the Judicial Branch acted to protect the safety of our citizens by suspending all jury trials. Following several weeks of careful planning and preparation, as well as instituting significant measures to protect the health of prospective jurors, witnesses, attorneys and court staff, we will soon resume jury trials. Next month, we will convene a pilot jury trial in Cheshire County. As we do our best to afford the defendants their constitutionally guaranteed right to a speedy and public jury trial, I want to assure all prospective jurors and witnesses that your health and safety is paramount to this process.

Jury duty stands as a cornerstone of democracy in New Hampshire and the United States. Jury trials are essential to our system of justice but they cannot work without your participation. Not only do jury trials protect individual rights but they also provide citizens with the chance to participate in the judicial process, and to safeguard our constitutional freedoms. The strength of the jury lies in the common sense and experience of a broad cross-section of society. That is why all eligible citizens are called upon to serve as jurors; whether you are a worker, a student, a homemaker, or are unemployed or retired.

The COVID-19 virus has affected us all and has forced us to act vigilantly to protect ourselves and our loved ones. For many New Hampshire citizens the virus has drastically changed how we live and work. While New Hampshire courthouses remained open during the past three months, resuming jury trials required significant preparation. The Judicial Branch spent that time closely monitoring the guidance offered by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding the safety measures necessary to resume jury trials. We considered best practices from the states that have successfully restarted jury trials in their regions. We have also consulted with State of New Hampshire Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Jonathan Ballard, and national infectious disease expert Dr. Erin Bromage from UMass-Dartmouth.

Dr. Ballard has met with an internal committee I created to plan for the resumption of court operations, and has reviewed and approved our plan for the resumption of jury trials. Dr. Bromage has conducted a walk-through of several of our courthouses and suggested ways we can safely resume jury trials. Based on their expert advice, we believe the Superior Court has designed a process that will provide a safe environment for jurors, victims, witnesses and everyone in the courtroom, while ensuring the due process rights of defendants.

One measure we have taken includes conducting the initial stages of the jury selection process through video conferencing, which will eliminate the need for 150 jurors to appear at the courthouse. Once an eligible pool of jurors is identified remotely, jurors will complete the selection process one at a time at the courthouse. When the jury selection process is complete, 12 jurors and 2 alternates will appear at the courthouse to listen to the evidence, to hear the judge’s instructions and to deliberate. During the trial, jurors will be seated in the gallery, according to markings that provide protective separation, or in the jury box if it is of sufficient size to ensure social distancing.

All jurors, attorneys, witnesses and court staff, including the judge, will be required to wear masks. The court will provide plentiful hand-sanitizers, along with masks, to anyone who needs one. All courthouses will have a professional cleaning company to sanitize the court room at the end of each day, and to clean all bathrooms and common areas throughout the day. Court staff will screen all jurors, witnesses and attorneys for COVID-19 related concerns each day, and will respond to any concerns raised during the screening through detailed protocols the judicial branch has developed.

Because of the actions of our state and local leaders during the pandemic and the conduct of our citizens, New Hampshire remains one of the few states with low infection rates. We believe the measures we have taken will help ensure that the constitutionally guaranteed right to a jury trial is respected and honored, even in these challenging times. If you are called upon to serve on a jury, I hope you will serve confidently, knowing the process we have established will allow you to safely take part in our proud democratic tradition.

Tina Nadeau is chief justice of the New Hampshire Superior Court. She lives in Portsmouth.

Monday, August 03, 2020
Sunday, August 02, 2020

SCHOOL SUPPLIES are beginning to appear in store aisles, but across New Hampshire, school board members, teachers, and parents are still wrestling with decisions about whether schools will fully open in-person, be fully remote, or offer a hybrid model. Teachers, administrators, and staff are…

Friday, July 31, 2020

IT IS time to applaud Hannaford Supermarkets. They have taken a huge step forward stating they will be eliminating the sale of all tobacco products by this fall. This big step promotes public health and wellness and shows that as a community partner they care about keeping people safe.

Thursday, July 30, 2020
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GOVERNOR Chris Sununu has spent four months focusing his attention on trying to guide the state through a frightening and challenging pandemic. This struggle is by no means over, but now some of his energy must be directed to reviewing the work of the legislature.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020
Tuesday, July 28, 2020

WHEN the COVID-19 pandemic first struck the state this spring, the Judicial Branch acted to protect the safety of our citizens by suspending all jury trials. Following several weeks of careful planning and preparation, as well as instituting significant measures to protect the health of pros…

Monday, July 27, 2020
Sunday, July 26, 2020
Thursday, July 23, 2020

IN 2018, a local newsroom reported on allegations of misconduct against the Salem police department. This investigative reporting triggered a momentous chain of events. The town manager was empowered to investigate the department and how it handled internal investigations, resulting in a dam…

Wednesday, July 22, 2020
  • Updated

Tomorrow, a Pepto Bismol-colored bus emblazoned with the words “Women For Trump 2020” will make its way through the state of New Hampshire, led by Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law and staffed with women who have long been voices in the conservative movement.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

FOR OVER a century, camp has been a summertime staple, nowhere more so than in New Hampshire. Every year, as camps help shape the lives of over 150,000 young people, New Hampshire’s camp industry generates millions of dollars in revenue and supports countless jobs. In 2020, however, every ca…

IN THE late 1970s and early 80s, I was part of a small inner-city house church in Atlanta. At that time, as in all major cities in the country, Atlanta was experiencing “white flight” in older inner-city neighborhoods. Blacks were moving in. Whites were uncomfortable and moving out.