Trials planned for 1883 Stutsman County Courthouse
For the first time in nearly 38 years, the sound of a gavel will be heard in the courtroom of the 1883 Stutsman County Courthouse.
The courtroom of the historic building is large enough to allow social distancing for the potential jurors necessary to fill a 12-person jury. The courtrooms in the Stutsman County Courthouse currently in use are not.
"We have signed an agreement with the Historical Society to hold jury trials there," said Barb Hill, clerk of district court for Stutsman County. "It will only be used for jury trials."
Plans had been under consideration to move the trials to the Jamestown Civic Center but issues with security and convenience for court staff prompted officials to take a look at the historic courthouse instead.
"It will be nice for court staff to be within walking distance during the trials," she said, referring to the old courthouse's location on the same block as the current building.
Hill said the first trial could be held July 14 and summonses to prospective jurors for two possible cases have gone out. The actual trials to be held could vary depending on cases settling on plea deals or requests for continuances by either side of the case.
Relocating a modern courtroom into a building that is 137 years old and has not been home to court activities for 38 years is posing an ongoing challenge.
"We have to bring Wi-Fi," Hill said, referring to internet and computer connectivity. "We need to mark chairs and bring in fans and a sound system. There is a lot of preparation still to do."
Electric fans will be positioned in the rear of the courtroom and will be supplied by the state of North Dakota, Hill said, referring to the fact that the old building does not have air conditioning.
Some preparation will be done by the staff at the historic courthouse, said Steve Reidburn, site supervisor for the State Historical Society of North Dakota.
"We'll move a few desks and chairs and try to keep the place as cool as possible," he said.
Cooling the historic building will be accomplished with "old passive methods," Reidburn said. "That's the way they kept it cool before air conditioning."
Reidburn said they have used those methods to keep the building cool for visitors who come to the site during the summer.
"The three times I've been in there it hasn't been bad," Hill said.
Another challenge is the lack of an elevator in the 1883 Stutsman County Courthouse.
"If someone is summoned to be a juror that can't climb the stairs we can make arrangements," Hill said, "or we can defer them to a later trial when we're back in the new courthouse."
Hill also said anyone over the age of 60 can request to be removed from the jury pools of the cases to be heard at the historic courthouse. Under normal circumstances, only people over the age of 72 have the option of requesting to be excused from jury duty.
When the jurors deliberate, they will return to the new Stutsman County Courthouse and use an entire courtroom to allow for social distancing during the deliberation process.