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Wichita County court cases still on pause due to COVID

There are at least 2,000 criminal court cases that date back to when COVID started
Updated: Jun. 2, 2021 at 10:57 PM CDT
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WICHITA FALLS, Texas (KAUZ) - The Wichita County Courthouse has at least 2,000 criminal court cases remaining on their docket that date back to when the pandemic first started.

Since the pandemic began, the U.S. Supreme Court has issued guideline orders every 90 days that courts must follow. However, the latest order would have expired on June 1, 2021 but it was extended until Aug. 1.

“I was excited to be on the bench but we don’t have the ability to socially distance in the hallways, and in the courtrooms to be able to conduct a jury trial,” said Meredith Kennedy, 78th District Judge.

Judge Kennedy, who took her seat in 2019, was only able to hear a few cases before court doors were closed in 2020.

“We’ve been doing contest hearings and mostly family law during this interim period. Then we still do our criminal docket every week but we do those by zoom,” said Judge Kennedy.

Some counties have opted for a bigger venue to get back to having in-person proceedings. While it’s something Wichita County has considered, having space isn’t the only issue. Courtrooms possess the technology capabilities and most important the security.

“This is a secure facility, you have to go through a metal detector when you come and the MPEC doesn’t have that,” said Judge Kennedy.

Wichita County District Attorney John Gillespie and his prosecutors are using the downtime wisely.

“We are up to date on all of our intake of new cases that are being filed. I want all the discovery done on every case and all the notices done that have to be sent out,” said Gillespie.

Among those 2,000 case folders that sit inside the courthouse, almost 150 of them are number one priority.

“Talking murders, sexual assault, and rape cases that we have pending that are particularly important to be tried first,” said Gillespie.

While victims and families are awaiting to see justice, those that sit behind bars have the right to a speedy trail or a lower bond.

“That’s a hard thing for us right now. We have to weigh them sitting in jail for a long time waiting for a trial that may or may not happen this year versus the security of our community,” said Judge Kennedy.

Judge Kennedy said none of those lower bond motions have been granted, but they are asking for anyone who gets a jury certification notice to participate in an emergency trial that will take place in June.

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