Friday, Anderson County District Courts suspended jury trials until at least April 1 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Palestine municipal court, which processes all class "C" criminal charges filed by the Police Division, Fire Marshals and Code Enforcement Office, followed suit Monday, suspending their hearings until at least April 1.
Essential proceedings, including temporary restraining orders, juvenile detention hearings, family violence protective orders, and CPS removal hearings will continue in district courts.
It is unclear whether Grand Jury proceedings will continue. If they are similarly suspended, non-convicted prisoners in Anderson County Jail must be released on reduced, or personal, bonds, if not indicted within 90 days of incarceration.
Officials in neighboring Smith County, which enacted a similar ruling Friday, said their Grand Jury will continue to meet, as scheduled.
Attempts to contact Anderson County District Attorney Allyson Mitchell were unsuccessful.
The suspension stems from Gov. Greg Abbott's state disaster declaration last week in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the declaration , the governor cited medical experts who recommended avoiding large gatherings of people.
Suspending jury trials means those in jail who have not yet been charged with a crime will have to wait even longer for their day in court.
Prior to the suspension, waiting more than a year between arrest and trial was not uncommon in Anderson County – some prisoners have waited more than three years to go before a judge.
Those on pre-trial bond release, who pay a monthly $50 bond fee until their trial, must continue to pay during the indefinite suspension period.
If the suspension continues for three months, for example, a person on bond release, who has not been convicted of any crime, will have to pay $150, even though all jury trials have been postponed.
The District Court notice stated “at least” April 1 – legal experts say it will most likely be extended – more than once.
Also Friday, the state Supreme Court enacted its first emergency order regarding the COVID-19 state of disaster.
Citing state law that allows the court to suspend any deadlines and procedures until 30 days after a disaster order has been lifted, the state Supreme Court has ruled all courts in Texas may extend the statute of limitations in any civil case up to 30 days after the lifting of the governor's disaster order.
Moreover, during this time, cases can be heard remotely, with all parties involved allowed to participate via video-conferencing, teleconferencing, or other means.
Sworn statements made outside of court, or sworn testimony, can also be given remotely.
The state Supreme Court's order expires May 8 but, again, legal experts expect the date to extend.