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The Bar Bulletin
Jax Daily Record Thursday, Oct. 7, 202105:10 AM EST

Update: COVID-19 and the justice system

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Chief Judge Mark Mahon recognizes attorneys, judges, court staff, law enforcement and the public.

By Chief Judge Mark Mahon, 4th Judicial Circuit

Mark Mahon

Dear fellow Jacksonville Bar Association members, it is an honor and a privilege to serve as Chief Judge in the Fourth Judicial Circuit. I take this opportunity to briefly update the legal community on my view of the current COVID-19 situation.

As you may be unaware, at the height of the original pandemic in 2020 the Duval County Jail continuously monitored the number of inmates in custody who tested positive within their system. During that time the number reached a height of about 500 individuals.

Immediately prior to the emergence of the delta variant, that number had dropped to single digits. This is amazing considering that at any given time there is a jail population of approximately 3,500 inmates.

Unfortunately, as the delta variant made its way through the community that number climbed to approximately 160 people, the high-water mark being in the last week of July.

Since that time, the numbers have steadily decreased and as of Sept. 25 there were 24 COVID-positive inmates in the jail. This represents less than 1% of the total Duval County jail population.

This number should be encouraging to both lawyers and the community as a whole. It is an unscientific, although I believe an accurate, indicator of the fact that we might have seen the worst of the delta variant. 

During this time we have continued to conduct business as much as possible, although under different circumstances. In criminal cases, we have continued to bring to the courthouse inmates who have tested negative and are not in quarantine. They are brought to the courtrooms in masks and are kept apart from lawyers and the public, as much for the protection of the jail population as for the lawyers.

Many defense attorneys have expressed gratitude in their ability to meet with their clients and see them in court, as opposed to having to visit them in the jail. This has continued to allow us to resolve cases as efficiently as possible.

Those lawyers who do not wish to come to the courthouse, of course have been allowed to participate remotely. In the other areas, including civil, family, county court and probate for example, those judges continue to employ technological solutions to obtain maximum efficiency while still remaining sensitive to the concerns of the litigants and their counsel. 

Something I am most proud of is the ability of both the criminal and civil divisions in county and circuit court to continue to conduct jury trials. This has required a great deal of cooperation and effort for all of the individuals involved, both by the State Attorney’s Office and the Public Defender’s Office as well as private attorneys in the criminal and civil bar.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, through their correctional officers and bailiffs, have continued to provide amazing support.

The court reporters and clerk’s office also have risen to the challenge, and I cannot fail to mention the efforts of the judicial assistants and judges who have continued to work during these challenging times.

A special recognition goes to the jurors who have continued to respond to their summons for service at rates equal to or greater than that prior to the pandemic. Without jurors who are willing to come down to the courthouse to discharge their civic duty, much of the court operations would come to a halt.

I am so proud of the legal community, the judges, all of the support staff and the citizens of our area for stepping up during these extraordinary times. Based on the numbers referenced earlier, I genuinely feel that brighter days are ahead and look forward to the positive changes this difficult time might bring forth.

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