Second Prospective Juror Reports Positive COVID-19 Test As Jury Selection Continues in St. Louis Circuit Court

April 21, 2021 — In the jury selection phase of the murder trial of Eric Lawson in St. Louis Circuit Court, a second juror has reported a positive test for COVID-19.

The latest juror appeared in court on the morning of April 14 for a two-hour session. This juror called Jury Supervisor Joanne Martin on the afternoon of April 19 indicating that she had tested positive April 16 and did not know when or where exposure occurred.

From the April 14 session, seven of 39 prospective jurors had been asked to return on April 20. Martin called each of the seven on April 19 to inform them of the positive juror and indicated that they were not to appear the following day and that their service was complete. For the other jurors in the April 14 session who had not been asked to return, Martin mailed a letter informing them of the positive.

A similar event occurred in a jury selection session April 16, when a prospective juror alerted Martin that they had just received news of a positive COVID-19 result from an earlier test. All 40 prospective jurors from that session were dismissed, and jury selection resumed with other groups of 40 later that afternoon.

The Court has summoned 3,500 people for jury selection in this case, including a 12-page questionnaire to be returned by mail.

Prospective Juror Appears in St. Louis Circuit Court, Notifies Jury Supervisor of Positive COVID Test

During a jury selection process Friday, April 16, a prospective juror alerted the St. Louis Circuit Court that they had just received news of a positive COVID-19 result from an earlier test. Friday was the juror’s first day at the courthouse.


After consultation with the judge and attorneys on the case, the entire group of jurors who were in proximity to the positive person were informed of the positive test and released from duty.


The Court performed contact tracing immediately, closed the area, and scheduled cleaning.


Jury selection will resume on Monday the 19th.


The Court urges that rather than coming to the courthouse, all summoned jurors who feel symptomatic, or have taken a test in the previous 48 hours, or have received a positive result should notify the Jury Supervisor from home before appearing.

St. Louis City Municipal Court to Move To Phase Three Operations, Resume In-Person Trials

APRIL 7, 2021 — Presiding Judge Michael F. Stelzer of the St. Louis Circuit Court has approved an operating plan submitted by Newton G. McCoy, administrative judge of the St. Louis City Municipal Division, and notified the Supreme Court of Missouri that the Municipal Court will move to Phase Three Operations April 12.

Under Phase Three, the Municipal Court will resume in-person trials at 1520 Market Street downtown on April 23, McCoy says in the plan, which details how that court will implement COVID-19 pandemic safety protocols for all parties.

St. Louis Circuit Court Moves to Phase Two COVID-19 Operations, Sets Jury Trial March 22

Presiding Judge Michael Stelzer of the St. Louis Circuit Court ordered today that the Court will transition immediately to Phase Two Operations from Phase One, as defined in the Operational Directives from the Supreme Court of Missouri last May.

Phase Two allows for jury trials that can “safely be conducted in compliance with social distancing protocols and occupancy rate limitations applicable to the local community.” Judge Stelzer noted that he had consulted with Dr. Fredrick Echols, director of the St. Louis Department of Health, in deciding to move to Phase Two.

Accordingly, the Court has scheduled its first jury trial in more than a year, when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit Missouri.

The trial will be in Case #1822-CR04166-01, State v. Jerome Pimpin Jones, who is charged with first-degree murder, first-degree assault, unlawful use of a weapon by firing from a moving vehicle, and three counts of armed criminal action. The charges stem from an incident Nov. 4, 2018.

Among them:

  • The trial courtroom will be open only to jurors and parties to the case.
  • Other observers may view a video feed of the trial from the Ceremonial Courtroom on the fourth floor of the Civil Courts Building. Other viewing rooms may be added as necessary.
  • Jury selection will be conducted in the Jury Assembly Room of the Civil Courts Building rather than in the trial courtroom to allow for safe social distancing.
  • Jury deliberation will be in a designated partner courtroom instead of around a table in a small room.
  • The Court will closely supervise cleaning and disinfecting spaces between each trial session. Deputies and other safety monitors will enforce rules for masking, social distancing, elevator and restroom occupancy and other pandemic-related precautions. Public spaces and high-touch areas will be cleaned frequently.

The court is taking numerous steps to protect the health and safety of prospective jurors and the eventual panel of 12 jurors and two alternates, as well as all parties and observers of this trial and others to follow while the Court remains in Phase Two.

Judge Stelzer said, “We are encouraged to get this area of the judicial process moving again but are proceeding with caution. Advancing through operational phases depends on all of us taking responsibility for our health and that of others as we work to become COVID-free.”

St. Louis Circuit Court Innovates To Overcome Pandemic Setback

As with most institutions, the St. Louis Circuit Court experienced service setbacks and unexpected challenges with the sudden onset of the COVID-19 pandemic nearly a year ago. But unlike some other institutions that were already driven by technology and innovation, the Court had to build many of its solutions from scratch.

Two areas of the Court exemplify the rapid response and adaptation that have kept proceedings largely on track: the Juvenile Court and the Treatment Courts.

Treatment Courts are special dockets in the court system designed to offer substance abuse treatment, combined with supervision and judicial oversight to provide non-violent substance abusers the tools they need to change their lives and avoid incarceration. They involve highly collaborative efforts of the Court, Circuit Attorney, Department of Corrections Probation and Parole, defense lawyers, community treatment providers, Sheriff’s Department, Children’s Division, community workers and volunteers. The original Drug Court for adults in the criminal justice system, has branched into separate treatment programs for parents with addiction issues, and veteran’s faced with criminal charges.

The explosive impact of the pandemic initially was a shock to the homegrown Treatment Court system. At the same time, the criminal justice system’s need for alternatives to incarceration spiked as officials sought to avoid having the virus spread in detention facilities.

Rochelle M. Woodiest, Treatment Courts commissioner, said, “We are back on track. Through it all, we have continued to graduate participants who successfully complete the program, although the ceremonies are virtual now.”

She said the Courts quickly developed a system of virtual check-in hearings, notifying defense attorneys and prosecutors of the time and internet links that Court officers need to speak with participants.

The Courts also make use of WebEx video for recovery meetings, and participants can meet with their counselors by video or over the phone. Its screenings for admission to the program are held virtually and involve interviews to determine a candidate’s potential to succeed.

To be considered for admission, defendants ask a judge at a bond or detention hearing. Commissioner Woodiest noted that overall admissions had declined somewhat because fewer cases overall are moving through the system during the pandemic.

Some aspects of Treatment Courts still rely on in-person interactions. Participants are still required to undergo random urine checks and meet regularly with their probation officers. The officers often conduct these meetings in the field, meeting defendants at neutral sites or at their offices, but they also conduct home visits.

And after establishing COVID safety protocols, the Courts have resumed working with various community agencies who have residential beds available for addiction treatment.

In the Juvenile Court, timeliness for many processes is dictated by state regulations.

Steven Ohmer, chief judge of the Juvenile and Family Court, said, “We have had brief interruptions related to the pandemic, especially in the early days. But we got back on schedule quickly once we adopted new technologies.”

Each of three original courtrooms in the Juvenile and Family Courts facility at 920 N. Vandeventer Ave. have been set up for virtual hearings.

“For hearings that must be in-person, we adapted another space for a fourth courtroom big enough for social distancing,” Judge Ohmer said.

In addition, the Court set up a small room equipped for WebEx as a way for people to attend video hearings if a courtroom is too full for social distancing. “If people lack a home computer or smartphone, they may come to our facility and use our WebEx equipped room,” he said.

While the pandemic has brought many new variables, the demand for virtual capabilities has remained high. “We have approximately 200 child protection hearings per month in cases related to abuse and neglect,” he noted. “These extra efforts have kept us timely over the long run of the pandemic.”

St. Louis Circuit Court Takes Many Steps To Protect Grand Jurors and Trial Jurors

St. Louis Circuit Court Takes Many Steps To Protect Grand Jurors and Trial Jurors Although the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown up many roadblocks in the St. Louis Circuit Court, the Grand Jury has been able to meet because of numerous precautions the Court has taken.St. Louis Circuit Court Takes Many Steps To Protect Grand Jurors and Trial Jurors

And someday soon, also because of extensive measures to protect jurors’ health, the Court will be able to resume jury trials.

The primary responsibility of the Grand Jury is to hear evidence presented by prosecutors and decide whether it is sufficient for an indictment on criminal charges. The Grand Jury may also inspect and tour government facilities, including those facilities in the criminal justice system, although COVID precautions have limited in-person inspections and tours.

Jury Supervisor Joanne Martin explains that steps to protect grand jurors fall into three areas: cleaning and sanitizing; social distancing and isolation; and technology. In addition, all grand jurors are made aware of every positive COVID test of an employee, whether in the Carnahan Courthouse, Civil Courts Building or Juvenile facility.

In the area of cleaning and sanitizing, the Court has:

  • Added air purifiers in the Grand Jury Room.
  •  Provided jurors individual hand sanitizers and installed standing room sanitizers.
  • Contracted for commercial disinfecting of the room and individual desks every evening after the Grand Jury is in session. •
  • Kept disinfecting wipes in the lunch/break room and the Grand Jury Room.

In the area of social distancing and isolation, the Court has:

  •  Chosen six alternates rather than the usual four to allow grand jurors flexibility if they ever feel uncomfortable coming to the courthouse or if they have been exposed to COVID-19. •
  • Made available additional masks and face shields in the Grand Jury Room.
  • Provided individual desks situated 6 feet apart.
  • Provided individual pens, notebooks and criminal code books.
  • Provided a private lunch/break room attached to the Grand Jury Room. 
  • Provided food and drink so that jurors don’t have to go outside to eat or risk bringing unsanitized items to Court, including breakfast items, lunch, bottled beverages and snacks. The court has removed the communal coffee machine and provided a Keurig individual coffeemaker.
  • Limited access of people allowed in the Grand Jury Room to designated deputies, the Jury Supervisor, and limited circuit attorney staff.
  • Locking the Grand Jury Room and lunch/break room after each session so there is no access to anyone other than the commercial cleaning company. Only five keys to these rooms are available — to the Grand Jury foreman, Jury Supervisor, two deputies, and facilities managers. •
  • Private restrooms available to Grand Jurors where only one person can use the restroom at a time per CDC guidelines.

In the area of maximizing technology, the Court has:

  • Replaced in-person witness testimony with livestreamed video testimony into the Grand Jury Room. •
  • Suspended most tours and inspections. Instead, for example, a scientist from the Crime Lab provided a one-hour seminar, in which she came to the Court and grand jurors remained socially distanced. Video seminars also may be available.

When the Court is able to resume jury trials, Martin said, it will safeguard prospective jurors and jury pools in many ways including many of the above steps in addition to:

  • Staggering the arrival times of jurors for jury selection. 
  • Allowing only two people per elevator.
  • Mandating masks for everyone in the court buildings. •
  • Sending prospective jurors home after a judge has questioned them, rather than having them stay in the courthouse. The Jury Supervisor will then call each juror who has been questioned to notify them whether they have been selected.

ST. LOUIS CIRCUIT COURT ELECTS MICHAEL STELZER PRESIDING JUDGE

In the regular meeting of the court en banc, the judges of the 22nd Judicial Circuit of Missouri elected Michael F. Stelzer presiding judge, to replacing Circuit Judge Rex M. Burlison for the 2021 and 2022 calendar years.

The Court also elected Elizabeth B. Hogan assistant presiding judge for a two-year term beginning Jan. 4.

Judge Stelzer was appointed to the Associate Circuit Bench in January 2004. He was appointed to the Circuit Bench in July 2012 and was retained in 2014 and 2020.

Prior to joining the bench, he served as Clerk at the Missouri Eastern District Court of Appeals under the Hon. Carl R. Gaertner, 1992-1993; joined the St. Louis City Counselor’s office in 1993; and was appointed General Counsel to the Board of Police Commissioners in 2002.

He graduated from Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill., in 1986 and graduated cum laude from St. Louis University School of Law in 1992.

St. Louis Circuit Court Amnesty Program Clears Bench Warrants For 44 Percent of Those Who Failed to Appear During Pandemic

Of the 144 persons who had bench warrants for failure to appear at court during the COVID-19 pandemic, 52 appeared in the St. Louis Circuit Court for an amnesty program announced last month, wiping the warrant away and getting new court date.

Because 26 people with bench warrants were unreachable or incapacitated, the result represents 44 percent of the population able to take advantage of the program.

Sarah Phillips, Pre-Trial Services Coordinator for the Court, said, “These 52 people were able to get signed up for court reminders, update their addresses, and apply for diversion programs through the Circuit Attorney’s Office, which set up a table in the courtrooms.”

Phillips noted that outdated addresses pose a significant problem for a population that has become largely transient during the pandemic. She said the majority of people who miss court appearances aren’t fleeing prosecution but simply are out of contact.

The amnesty program applied to persons with bench warrants issued since Jan. 1 after failing to appear.

Court staff initiated contact with eligible defendants and defense attorneys — or in some cases, family members and involved community organizations — to provide information about the new court date and elicit updated contact information. Additionally, the Court established a bench warrant hotline.

The amnesty hearings took place on Sept. 25 and Oct. 2.

St. Louis Circuit Court Returns All Facilities To Phase Two of COVID-19 Operations

Sept. 1, 2020 — Presiding Judge Rex M. Burlison of the St. Louis Circuit Court has issued an administrative order returning the Civil Courts Building, Carnahan Courthouse and the Juvenile Court Division to a higher operating phase as defined by the Missouri Supreme Court.

The order moves the facilities to Phase Two operations from Phase One. The move essentially expands the possibilities for in-person proceedings in these facilities, including grand jury and jury trials for the most “extraordinary, pressing and urgent” cases. In addition, it expands occupancy maximums to 25 persons from 10 in large venues and common areas such as courtrooms, jury assembly rooms, jury deliberating rooms, break rooms, and other areas in court facilities.

Phase Two continues to spell out requirements for masks and social distancing among judicial employees and those authorized to enter for specific proceedings.

The Missouri Supreme Court continues to encourage all courts and judges to make maximum use of video conferencing, remote access and work-from-home technologies.

The Missouri Supreme Court requires that before moving to a higher phase of operations, each circuit court consider that progression of the COVID-19 pandemic has improved in its local community over a 14-day period. Circuit courts can also move back to a lower operating phase if local conditions worsen.

Details of Phase Two operations are contained in the Court’s COVID-19 Order #28.

St. Louis Circuit Court Moves To Next Phase of COVID-19 Operations

June 2, 2020 — Presiding Judge Rex M. Burlison of the St. Louis Circuit Court has issued an administrative order moving the St. Louis Circuit Court to a higher operating phase as defined by the Missouri Supreme Court, effective today.

The Order moves the Court to Phase One operations from Phase Zero. The move resumes only the most critical in-person proceedings and restricts grand jury and jury trials to “only the most extraordinary, pressing, and urgent cases.”

Burlison’s Order also spells out requirements for masks and social distancing among judicial employees and those authorized to enter for specific proceedings.

The Missouri Supreme Court continues to encourage all courts and judges to make maximum use of video conferencing, remote access and work-from-home technologies.

The Missouri Supreme Court requires that before moving to a higher phase of operations, each circuit court consider that progression of the COVID-19 pandemic has improved in its local community over a 14-day period. Circuit courts can also move back to a lower operating phase if local conditions worsen.

The order notes that there has been no confirmed COVID-19 case in court facilities in the last 14 days. “The Stay-at-Home order in the City of St. Louis has been relaxed; COVID-19 health conditions have improved in the City of St. Louis over the last 14-day period according to the matrix used by local safety and health officials; consultation has occurred with the Department of Health on court activities; and consultation has occurred between the judiciary and court partners,” the order says.

The Order applies to all court facilities, the Civil Courts Building, The Carnahan Courthouse, and the Family Court/Juvenile Division.

For more information, please contact Thom Gross, public information officer, thom.gross@courts.mo.gov.