Caddo Parish D.A. talks about coronavirus’s impact on court system

Caddo Parish D.A. talks about coronavirus’s impact on court system

CADDO PARISH, La. (KSLA) - Courthouses across Louisiana are preparing to open their doors again after being closed for nearly two months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Caddo Parish District Attorney James Stewart, the Caddo Parish Courthouse is preparing to open its doors on Monday, May 18.

Stewart says the pandemic has impacted the courthouse especially when it comes to civil and criminal jury trials.

“It has affected our ability to have jury trials (or) to have any kind of evidentiary hearings so we can move the cases," he said. "We’ve been working with the Shreveport Police Department and the (Caddo Parish) Sheriff’s Office on new cases trying to get them going, but at the same point we need to get those cases in court.”

The Louisiana Supreme Court issued an order saying no civil or criminal jury trials can be held before June 30, 2020.

The Caddo Parish courthouse sets aside particular weeks for jury trials which are called jury terms. According to Stewart, since the courthouse has been closed they’ve lost 17 criminal jury terms from March to June.

Stewart is requesting the court to add additional jury terms in July that will continue through the end of the year. He also would like the court to increase the normal number of jury terms for next year too.

Video conferences have also been used during this time to keep the jail from backing up.

“We do a lot of Zoom," Stewart said. "We’ve been rotating people in the courtroom. We do audio/visual from the jail. We just set up a new system so that when the court opens up all five criminal sections will have the ability to do some audio/visual so that will help a lot.”

Those who have received a notice or summons to appear in criminal court before May 18, 2020, will be re-notified of their new date.

Also, those who received a summons for jury duty on May 4 or May 18 are released from their duties and do not need to call in or report to the Caddo Parish Clerk of Court.

The Caddo Parish juvenile court is currently in limited operation and is preparing for trials to begin next week.

For those who have received a subpoena to a juvenile court case, you must abide by the subpoena. You can call the juvenile DA office at (318) 429-7647 to see if you can testify via video technology.

D.A. explains effects of COVID-19 on courts

Stewart says since the pandemic they have seen an increase in domestic violence cases, and they are working to still speak with victims following social distancing protocols.

“We’re working on those everyday," he said. "I have a domestic violence division. We’re working with law enforcement, we’re reaching out to the victims trying to keep them safe and we’re sending a message out here that if you commit the crime there is space in the jail for you.”

When the courthouse does re-open their doors, Stewart says people should come early and be prepared for possible long lines.

“They need to be prepared when they come to the courthouse to have masks on," he said. "Be prepared to have their temperature taken. They’re going to try and limit the number of people who come in at one time. Be patient, don’t be frustrated. You’ll be notified when cases are put off to another date.”

Shreveport’s City Courts are also preparing to open their doors back up to the public on Monday, May 18 as well.

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