Backlog of cases builds as COVID-19 limits operations at Pima County Superior Court

Courthouse backlog

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Jury trials in Pima County Superior Court and all Pima County limited jurisdiction courts are suspended through March 31.

Presiding Judge Kyle Bryson extended the administrative order on Thursday due to the COVID-19 infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths.

The court is juggling a need to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 while handling a growing backlog of cases.

“If you got arrested today and you wanted your day in court, you would not get a jury trial for at least two years,” said Pima County Public Defender Joel Feinman.

Feinman said even after COVID-19 eases, its impact will likely be felt for years.

“We are going to have people in jail who are innocent of any charge under the Constitution, who are going to wait years and years and years for their day in court. It’s a huge problem and we are just grappling with how to address that now,” Feinman said.

The Pima County Superior Court has not held a jury trial in about a year.

“Our prosecutors are having to call up victims every 30 days and say, ‘I am so sorry, but due to the surge in the pandemic, we just don’t know when we can get you back into court,’” said Pima County Attorney Laura Conover. “Not to mention they don’t want to come downtown to the court during a pandemic either.”

Presiding Judge Kyle Bryson said jury trials are scheduled to resume in April, but that could change if COVID-19 cases do not improve.

“Things are so fluid that things change not just day to day, but hour to hour,” Judge Bryson said.

Judge Bryson said it is important to note- only a small percentage of cases go to trial.

“A year ago at this time, about four percent of our criminal cases went to trial and under one percent of our civil cases went to trial, so the vast majority of cases were disposed of and continue to be disposed of through other means,” Judge Bryson said.

Physical changes are being made at the courthouse to allow for social distancing as staff prepares to welcome jurors back once again.

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