Alachua County calling on twice as many jurors

Your chances of getting summoned for jury duty in Alachua County have doubled, according to the clerk of courts who said he is playing catch up.

J.K. “Jess” Irby, clerk of the Alachua County Circuit Court, said the Florida Supreme Court has been rolling back limitations and recently issued an administrative order that removes requirements for social distancing and masking beginning June 21.

The removal of social distancing and face mask requirement “must be implemented by all courts by August 2, 2021, unless the Chief Justice authorizes an extension of time,” Chief Justice Charles T. Canady ordered on June 4.

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“With this, it can be expected there will be more in-person events and remote proceedings will be further rolled back,” Irby said. “Some events, however, like civil traffic, will remain remote.”

If you have a driver’s license and live in the county, you are eligible to serve as a juror, and those jurors selected will be summoned from four to eight weeks prior to jury duty.

“The court pivoted quickly and began doing most proceedings remotely last year,” said Irby. “Jury trials have been the big holdback due to their in-person nature.”

And now that the dockets are fully up and running and have been for a while now, Irby said the number of jury summons have basically doubled since jury trials resumed.

“Historically, we would summon around 350 jurors for jury selection only on the first day of the week,” Irby said. “Currently, we are summonsing for both Monday and Tuesday at the same rate of 350 individuals a day, doing jury selections both days.”

According to Irby, the court put a priority on criminal trials by resuming them first. “This has helped keep the backlog of criminal trials down,” Irby said, “But, based on year to year pending cases, it appears there is an 11 percent increase of pending criminal cases. Not all of these cases will result in a trial, but mark a significant increase in pending criminal cases that must be addressed.”

Irby said civil trials only recently resumed in February and mark the majority of the trial backload.

“According to the court, there is a 25 percent increase in pending civil cases,” he said.

Irby said the court has been conducting about 20 trials a month since the beginning of 2021.

“It is expected to take a full year to work through the backlog,” said Irby, who stole the spotlight and gained national media coverage last summer when he hosted drive-thru weddings, drawing couples from around the state and beyond to travel to Gainesville to tie the knot.

“In an effort to expedite the trial backlog, the court has restructured judicial assignments to enable an extra judge to be available to conduct trials each week,” Irby said.

As for courthouse weddings, he said his calendar is filling up fast.

“Our wedding calendar is full or nearly full every day,” he said. “We currently perform weddings outside, in front of the civil courthouse and if there is inclement weather, or the couple has limited guests and requests indoors, we perform the ceremony in the lobby of the civil courthouse.

“Appointments are currently required for marriage services, with some days there being up to 14 wedding ceremonies/license issuances.”

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