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Jury trials resume in county court

For the first time since the coronavirus pandemic shut down the in-person court system, jury trials are back on track.

Clerk of Court Michele Maxwell said the first to be held, in fount of County Judge Gordon Shuler, was that of Otis Wheeler, on May 12, held in the main courtroom.

She said 22 out of 32 prospective jurors showed to see if they would be chosen. “It was a good turnout,” she said.

“Right now there’s an administrative order that’s still under the CDC guidelines, for masks and social distancing,” Maxwell said. “When they came in we handed them a paddle with actual seat number and they had to stay in their seat. And everybody in the courtroom had to wear masks.

“I had a hard time with mine,” she said. “It’s hard to get out what you want to say.”

Maxwell said she is looking forward to the lifting of the in-person ban for felony trials under Circuit Judge Jonathan Sjostrom.

Once the jury was selected, they sat on chairs that had been distanced “They actually took the old jury chairs that were bolted to the floor and had them separated out,” Maxwell said.

When it was time to deliberate, the jurors met in the third-floor jury room, which is typically the grand jury room by the judge’s chambers.

In less than an hour, they found Wheeler not guilty on the charge of domestic battery.

Sjostrom has scheduled a felony trial for May 26 for Douglas Morin, who is charged with burglary and petit theft. A grand jury is slated to meet June 7.

But whether they will be held is still up in the air, as the order must be formally lifted.

“I am sure they would work something out,” Maxwell said. “I am very confident when they’re looking at our (coronavirus) numbers, it will be lifted by the end of June.

“There’s a lot of people who have been sitting in jail for a long time,” she said. “Everyone is ready to get back to normal.”

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Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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