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Delta variant could slow already backlogged court system

Months after courts reopen, judges consider new restrictions
Palm Beach County Courthouse entrance
Posted at 10:37 AM, Aug 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-04 10:51:53-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Shirley Borges' last motorcycle ride ended in March 2019 when police said she was struck head-on by a car driven by a man under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

"She loved to just go off on the bike and feel the wind in her face," said her friend Melanie Wildrich, who wonders why that case still has not gone to trial. "You can't have closure if there's no justice."

Christian White has pleaded not guilty to DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide. He was charged almost two-and-a-half years ago.

After coronavirus shut down Florida courts in March 2020, 12 of White's pre-trial hearings were canceled and five others were delayed.

"It's hard because you're waiting, and there are reminders -- you know, her birthdays, the anniversary of her death," said Wildrich.

Now she worries the surge of new COVID-19 cases fueled by the delta variant will continue to bring court delays.

A Contact 5 investigation this spring found a backlog of more than 1 million cases.

In recent months, Florida's 19th Judicial Circuit, which covers the Treasure Coast, lifted all restrictions that were imposed at the outset of the pandemic. But in court this week, Judge Sherwood Bauer Jr. said most hearings of criminal cases will return to Zoom.

"The only in-court proceedings that criminal court can have, once we get through some previously scheduled matters, is jury trials," said Bauer.

In Palm Beach County, Chief Judge Glenn Kelly already reinstated the mask mandate. He wrote a memorandum saying other restrictions may be on the way in the wake of the coronavirus surge.

"Think of the movement in and out of the court system," noted West Palm Beach attorney Greg Morse, who worries the fallout from the surge could soon delay the criminal trial of one of his clients.

The trial is scheduled to start in eight days, but Morse's client is in a state prison and will have to quarantine in the county jail for 14 days before he can go to court.

"It just seems like the functioning with the delta variant is going to change how the court is even able to get the participants in court for trial," said Morse.

In Port St. Lucie, Wildrick wonders how many more delays court delays in the case of her friend's alleged killer lie ahead.

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