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Court adapting for socially distant trials

Only eight guests are allowed inside a courtroom during trials, so high-interest cases are taking place elsewhere.

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — Flat-screen TVs, a camera, and a sound system are not what you'd think to find inside a Pennsylvania courtroom.

But since the jury has to be spread out throughout the gallery to maintain social distancing, it's necessary to make sure jurors have the same perspective they would outside of a pandemic.

"In our courtrooms, we have basically a jury box that was from 1908 so it's not designed for social distancing," said President Judge Michael Vough. "So we have 14 people that we normally put in a jury box which is 12 jurors and two alternates, but they're not six feet apart obviously they're close in proximity."

This set-up only allows for eight guests in the courtroom.

Not suitable for high-profile cases coming up this fall in Luzerne County.

Right now three trials are scheduled to take place at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre Township.

"We are used to doing different events right now we're working on, you know, a concert in our parking lot this weekend," said Will Beekman, the general manager of the arena. "And if you'd have told me we were working going to be working on you know court cases inside. I'll tell you you're crazy but it's been a crazy 2020."

These are photos taken inside the arena, to give you a glimpse of how big a normal courtroom gets when it's transformed to meet social distance requirements.

"We when you put seven chairs six feet apart. That's basically 72 feet. So we're looking at a distance situation there we will bring our equipment to the arena and we'll have the equipment as the arena," added Judge Vough.

Something else Luzerne County Courts are doing to make sure trials remain fair while complying with public safety guidelines?

Providing jurors and prospective jurors with special, see-through, masks.

We want to be able to see more of their face than in a normal mask.

So each juror will be given a mask like this," demonstrated Judge Vough. "So the lawyer is having the ability to have their masks on but be able to see at least see some of their faces regarding facial expressions and things like that."

Jury trials started this week, and Judge Vough says things are running smoothly.

He was nervous that people would be afraid to report to jury duty with the pandemic, but so far he says juror turn out has been great.

There are some changes to jury duty though.

So if you are called, be sure to check your paperwork for your reporting location.

It will either be at the arena, the Jewish Community Center in Kingston, or at the courthouse.

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