Milwaukee County Courthouse exploring options to resume court activities as backlog of cases grows

MILWAUKEE -- During a time when many have realized we can do our jobs from many places, the same thought process is happening when it comes to the Milwaukee County Courthouse -- specifically, whether parts of the process that normally happens there could happen elsewhere, like the neighboring Milwaukee Theater, as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

In an empty courtroom ripe with tradition, Lady Justice is coping with new changes to the courtroom routine.

"We don't want to see the spread within the confines of the courthouse," said Milwaukee County Chief Judge Mary Triggiano.

John Barrett

The chief judge and clerk of circuit court need juries back in the courtroom's empty seats as the backlog of court cases grows to nearly 35,000.

"We need people to do their civic duty. And we need to make sure people feel safe while doing that," said Clerk of Circuit Court John Barrett said.

Social distancing will limit the number of people in traditional courthouse gathering spaces. So, jurors could be summoned to places like the Milwaukee Theater and the Milwaukee Public Library where they would wait until called to the courthouse for the voir dire process.

Courtroom at Milwaukee County Courthouse

"It's really important to get back up and running so that people can have their day in court and have their matters heard," Triggiano said.

What will change is a vetting process for those who don't feel comfortable taking a seat.

Mary Triggiano

"We'll be very liberal about trying to figure who can come, who wants to come and who should come," said Triggiano. "We will never be able to 100% assure people that this virus isn't walking the halls of the courthouse, but we will do everything within our power, everything that is reasonable, to try to mitigate that risk."

One option would send masked jurors into the area the public normally sits in to hear evidence and even deliberate. How exactly will the final outcome look? The jury is still out.

Summons could start going out in 30-45 days, along with will come a letter explaining the new procedures. The court will start by opening a few courtrooms and will take up the most high-priority cases. Triggiano says they have a prioritization process which will help determine who goes first.

Milwaukee County Courthouse