Federal jury trials in Nebraska won’t resume before July 3, the chief U.S. district judge of Nebraska announced Thursday, citing the growth in COVID-19 cases in the state.

In a two-page order, Judge John Gerrard said he has been monitoring the coronavirus pandemic and is hopeful that legal proceedings can return to normal.

However, Gerrard wrote, “Nebraska leads the nation in percentage growth in new confirmed cases of COVID-19.”

The World-Herald reported Saturday that because of huge COVID-19 outbreaks in a number of Nebraska’s meatpacking counties, Nebraska leads the nation in percentage growth in new confirmed cases. That was true over the past week, the past two weeks and the past month, according to the newspaper’s analysis of national data.

“That growth,” Gerrard wrote, “has been primarily driven by outbreaks in communities that are home to large meatpacking operations — but the Court’s juries are drawn in part from those communities. And in Douglas and Lancaster Counties — home to the district’s courthouses — the trajectories of both confirmed cases and positive tests as a percentage of total tests are trending upwards.”

No court proceedings of any kind will occur before June 8, and any grand jury proceedings scheduled before June 12 will be postponed. Gerrard allowed for case-by-case exceptions for nonjury court proceedings at the judge’s discretion.

On March 13, Gerrard first ceased federal court trials.

Gerrard’s Thursday letter noted that “neither the district as a whole nor the communities in which the district’s courthouses are located presently meet the gating criteria for even a phased resumption of operations.”

In Douglas County, state court proceedings were being held as scheduled in County Court. Jury trials will start in July in Douglas County District Court.

For County Court hearings, folding chairs have been set up and spaced appropriately in the main rotunda of the Douglas County Courthouse. People wait until their name is called by a deputy to enter the courtroom.

During a preliminary hearing last Friday, the judge required all 15 attendees to wear a mask.

Alia Conley covers breaking news, crime, crime trends, the Omaha Police Department and initial court hearings. Follow her on Twitter @aliaconleyOWH. Phone: 402-444-1068.

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