Hillsborough County courts ready to safely welcome back jurors

It's hard to believe that half a year has gone by without a jury trial. Hillsborough Chief Judge Ron Ficarrotta says they're taking every necessary precaution as they welcome jurors back.

"Jury duty is one of the most important civic responsibilities you can be called upon to do. We need them back at the courthouse," said Judge Ficarrotta. 

But the courthouse will look a little different. It all begins at the front door with a temperature check, a few health questions, and a must-have accessory - a face masks. 

Once you get in, you will see social distancing signs peppered throughout the jury auditorium, directing you where to sit.

Before, 300 people could easily fit inside the room, but now only 125 will be allowed at a time.

"The good news is, if jurors show up at 7:30 a.m., they get checked in [but] if they don’t get called out to a courtroom, we will dismiss them at 10 a.m. They won’t have to sit around all day. that gives us time to clear out that room and sanitize it," explained Doug Bakke, the chief operating officer for Hillsborough Clerk of the Circuit Court.

Jurors will be allowed to use their own face masks. But lawyers may prefer they wear clear ones, which the court will provide.

"You can't tell if someone is smiling at you, snarling at you or angry with you. You need to see a person’s facial expressions," said Ficarrotta. 

The jury boxes in the large courtrooms now only seats three people and the rest will be sitting outside of it.

The chief judge says it's all about balancing safety and with a vital civic duty.

"My goal is just to keep everyone safe when they come to the courthouse," explained Judge Ficarrotta.  

Jury selection officially begins October 19. Some potential jurors will have to show up by 7:30 a.m., followed by the next group at 10:30 a.m. Afternoon groups will be added later. 

All jury excuses will be reviewed ahead of time and only those who still need to show up will get a confirmation call from the clerk’s office.