A new sort of normal in trials this week at the Grayson County Courthouse

Jerrie Whiteley / Herald Democrat
Jerrie Whiteley

It was a new kind of normal for trials at the Grayson County courthouse this week as the 15th state District court held session in the old West courtroom on the second floor.

In more than 20 years of covering trials in this county, I have never seen anything like it because nothing like it has ever happened before. Instead of a jury box full of jurors, the box sat empty while the jurors filled the benches on the west side of the courtroom. 

Every juror wore a mask as did most of the other participants of the trial. The changes, of course, were due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the precautions taken to help keep those participating as healthy as possible.

Large pieces of plexi glass stood like sentinels between the two prosecutors and the defense attorney. The judge, the witnesses and the court reporters were similarly separated. 

Attorneys kept a bottle of disinfectant wipes handy and cleaned off the microphone after each use. 

Those waiting outside the courtroom were all required to wear masks though no one's temperature was taken to enter either the building or the courtroom. 

After months of having zoom hearings and putting off major trials, even the odd looking trial was something of a relief for many involved in the justice system. A number of cases have continued to be resolved during the pandemic by plea bargains, which are a normal part of doing business in the criminal justice system these days and have been for a long time. But the trials had trickled down to almost none during the last pandemic and that has meant a strain on the system in other places. 

Conversations with those involved revealed that everyone worked together to try to keep those strains from becoming unbearable, but at someone point the wheels of justice had to start really spinning again for everyone's sake. 

That seemed to have happened this week with this trial. In the past, I have listened while some politicians said it was a waste of space to keep those two old large courtrooms open on the second floor of the Grayson County Courthouse while the county struggled with growing pains and a lack of space. 

Some argued that at least one of them should be used for office space. In the last few months, Grayson County commissioners have moved their weekly hearings to the East Courtroom to allow more people to attend than would be possible in the courtroom on the 1st floor. The way that plan has worked out made me wonder why that extra courtroom was not converted to office space long ago. Surely the county's most powerful group of leaders should always meet in a room able to accommodate all who would want to attend. 

And, of course, now the West courtroom has proved itself to be very useful in allowing justice to continue on even though it had to look radically different than it ever probably has before in this or any Texas County. 

This doesn't get said very often, but there are people awaiting trials who have not been convicted of anything. They are losing their liberty while they await their day in court and the system does not work fairly unless they are able to have their day in court in a reasonable time frame. If the county didn't have those two large courtroom, another solution, possibly a more expensive one, would have had to be found. 

Happy birthday Saturday to Kate Ertel of Colorado Springs. Happy birthday Sunday to Rachel Hinsley of Sadler; Debbie Watt and Lyndall Wilcoxon, both of Sherman; and Weldon Darr of Denison. Happy birthday Monday to Amber McKinney of Denison and Patrica Onley of Richardson.