County to lease SMCPA for jury trials

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Last June, officials toured the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts in search of a space large enough for possible use as a substitute courtroom. Macon County Commissioners voted to lease SMCPA at a cost of $300 per day for upcoming jury trials.

Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer

To slow the spread of COVID19, N.C. Chief Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley ordered courts to postpone all jury trials until August, because of COVID-19. That order was extended until Oct. 15 and Beasley directed courts across North Carolina to find alternative space for jury trials if social distancing cannot be maintained within their current locations. 

Across the 43rd Prosecutorial District, which encompasses the seven westernmost counties of North Carolina, court officials have been identifying, examining and measuring large spaces for possible use as substitute courtrooms. Many of the courtrooms in the district are too small to accommodate trials and maintain safe spacing for those involved. 

In Macon County, a group that included Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Bill Coward, District Attorney Ashley Welch, Clerk of Superior Court Vic Perry, and other officials toured the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts (SMCPA) in June and determined the space would be sufficient for a possible jury room, courtroom security, and possible to space people in the audience area to adhere to social distancing requirements. 

The Macon County Board of Commissioners voted to enter into a lease agreement with the performing arts center during last night’s monthly meeting which will allow the performing arts center to be used for jury trials over the next few months.

“We appreciate everyone stepping up to help as we all try to cope with the coronavirus threat,” Chief Assistant District Attorney Jason Arnold. “Smoky Mountain Center will provide the judicial system with a safe venue to continue handling cases and trials.”

The cost for the space will be leased for $300 a day, which covers the cost of cleaning the venue after each trial session. There are few calendared sessions on the Macon County docket over the next few months, which will keep the cost to a minimum, while ensuring that those convicted are afforded their right to a speedy trial. 

Regular court sessions will continue to be held at the Macon County Courthouse, with only jury trials having a venue location change to the performing arts center as needed. 

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