In-person court hearings and jury trials set to resume in La Crosse County

"We got to get back to how we used to do things where we're all on the same page and working together," La Crosse County DA Tim Gruenke says

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – In-person court hearings are set to resume in La Crosse County.

Beginning April 5, judges can begin scheduling in-person hearings at their discretion.

Jury trials are restarting on May 17 in phases approved by the La Crosse County Circuit Court.

“There’s really no substitute for being in the courtroom with the judge, with the other parties,” La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke said.

For the past year in La Crosse County, every courtroom has been empty.

But soon, that’ll change, as court hearings are set to resume in-person.

“It makes things go a lot smoother, and quicker,” Gruenke said.

Court hearings in the county have been done remotely since COVID began.

“I think we’ve been kind of at a standstill, and a little bit disconnected from our work,” Gruenke said.

Gruenke says most court hearings have kept going during the pandemic.

“Sentences, motions, plea hearings,” Gruenke said.

But jury trials have been delayed.

“How do we keep people in the deliberation room?,” Gruenke said. “By definition, you’re talking for hours in a room…So that’s been a struggle on how to do this with COVID.”

And this has been a problem for victims, families, and some children waiting for justice.

“Those children who’ve been waiting around for a termination of parental rights hearing to happen have really just been in limbo this whole time,” YWCA-La Crosse CASA for Kids Program Director Jessie Fortuna said.

Fortuna says terminations of parental rights allow children to be adopted by their foster parents.

“And that can’t happen until the termination happens,” Fortuna said.

In Wisconsin, that is required during a jury trial.

La Crosse County is holding these jury trials and others once again in May.

“Just because it’s opening doesn’t that some people are going to have the trials right now,” Fortuna said.

Gruenke says people waiting for a jury trial have been patient.

“But they’re running out of patience,” Gruenke said.

Even Gruenke himself says it’s time to settle cases and trials like they were before.

“We got to get back to how we used to do things where we’re all on the same page and working together,” Gruenke said.

Gruenke says courtrooms will mostly look the same, except things will be spread out a little bit more.

People in courtrooms will be required to wear a mask and stay socially distant.

Hand sanitizer will be available outside of each courtroom.