MECOSTA, OSCEOLA COUNTIES \u2014 Mecosta and Osceola county judges are trying to find a way to safely conduct jury trials as Michigan courts continue to operate remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. \u201cWe are having difficulty determining when we are going to be able to properly conduct jury trials again, and that really matters because if someone hasn\u2019t been able to bond out of jail or we didn\u2019t set a bond because of factors that they were dangerous or likely to flee, it\u2019s not appropriate for folks to sit in jail with no end in sight,\u201d 49th Circuit Court Judge Scott Hill-Kennedy told the Pioneer. Due to the coronavirus pandemic and guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, state of Michigan and Michigan Supreme Court, the courts in Mecosta and Osceola counties have been operating mostly remotely since March, with the majority of court proceedings taking place via Zoom, barring a few exceptions. 77th District Court Judge Peter Jaklevic said, overall, this system has been working well for the courts. However, conducting jury trials remains an issue. \u201cWe are keeping up. All the courts are doing everything that they\u2019ve always done,\u201d Jaklevic said. \u201cThe only thing we can\u2019t do is jury trials, and the reason for that is we don\u2019t have a big enough space in the courtrooms. We have to follow the CDC guidelines for social distancing.\u201d Hill-Kennedy explained only a small percentage of criminal felony cases go to trial. \u201cWhat typically happens in probably 90% of criminal cases that are felonies in the circuit court, are they end up either going to a plea to some charge by the defendant or being dismissed,\u201d he said. Nonetheless, Hill-Kennedy said court officials have been considering all their options for conducting jury trials in the cases that require them, such as holding trials in area schools with more space, making proper social distancing possible. Jaklevic said if a solution is found for conducting jury trials in the district and circuit courts in Mecosta and Osceola counties, they will essentially be fully operational despite most people working remotely. \u201cJury trials are probably the single most important part of the criminal justice system,\u201d he said. \u201c ... If we can get back jury trials and keep people safe in the process, we are really going to be going at 100%.\u201d Although court officials continue discussions on how to hold jury trials, Hill-Kennedy and Jaklevic said other court proceedings have been running fairly smoothly. Hill-Kennedy said steps such as arraignments, settlement conferences and other meetings between the parties of a case, the attorneys and the judges have been able to be completed via Zoom. He added that this has been particularly helpful for attorneys who live several hours away, as they have not had to schedule proceedings based around the time it would take them to drive to and from different courts across the state. One issue Hill-Kennedy said they have faced though is a lack of internet in some more rural areas of the county. \u201cWe are encountering that some of our citizens have not been able to participate due to technological limitations,\u201d he said. However, he said people are encouraged to go somewhere with public internet access in these instances. Jaklevic said he has also received positive feedback from attorneys and parties who have found the Zoom conferences to be more convenient. \u201cI think there\u2019s some things that are going to continue like this when this is all over,\u201d he said. Although some people have found the Zoom option helpful, Hill-Kennedy said defendants have the right to request certain aspects of their case be handled in person, including when they are officially sentenced in a case. \u201cIf a defendant wants to be sentenced after entering a plea or being convicted during a jury trial \u2014 if that person wants to have the sentencing done in person in the courtroom in front of the judge \u2014 that person has the right to request that. That\u2019s their constitutional right,\u201d he said. As court officials continue to find ways to uphold the justice system during the ongoing pandemic, Hill-Kennedy said he is grateful to the judges and other court staff he has been working alongside. \u201cI work with great colleagues, and they have been great in brainstorming, being helpful and trying to figure out ways to run our court smoothly and appropriately through all these limitations that we face because of the lockdown orders,\u201d Hill-Kennedy said.