AURORA | Days after Sentinel Colorado published a story detailing the incongruous rollout of COIVD-19 vaccine among legal workers in local courthouses, regional health officials have pledged to get more shots into the arms of Aurora-area defense attorneys, prosecutors and court staff.
The Tri-County Health Department has set up pop-up vaccination clinics for workers in both the 18th and 17th Judicial Districts on March 8 and March 15, respectively, officials in both offices have confirmed. Shots will be available to prosecutors, public defenders and court personnel such as clerks, stenographers and judges.
“We’re delighted that Tri-County has set this clinic up for us,” Democrat Brian Mason, who serves as district attorney in Adams and Broomfield Counties, said. “ … I think it’s going to allow us to better serve our community, and this will allow us to safely — but slowly — get jury trials started again, and that was our objective all along. I’m very happy that we have finally made progress.”
Jury trials in the 17th were slated to begin March 1 after a prolonged hiatus spurred by the winter spike in viral transmissions, though no proceedings actually took place, Mason said. A county court case in Broomfield is slated for the docket next week.
A handful of jury trials kicked off in Aurora’s largest state court jurisdiction, the 18th Judicial District covering Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln Counties, late last month.
The Republican skipper of that jurisdiction, John Kellner, joined Mason in praising the recent clinic announcement from Tri-County.
“As our courtrooms are reopening for limited trial settings, I am pleased that Tri-County Health is able to include my staff in a vaccine clinic for those who work at the courthouse,” he said in a statement.
A Feb. 25 story published in The Sentinel covered the frustration district attorneys in both Adams and Arapahoe Counties have expressed in recent weeks as vaccines have circumvented their offices, but found their way to offices in more rural parts of the state.
“As much as I empathize with the extraordinary burden that this pandemic has been on Tri-County Health, what frustrates me is to see the different interpretations of state guidelines depending on the jurisdiction,” Mason said last month.
Many state court workers argued they technically met the current requirements under the state’s vaccination timelines, though they remained without shots for weeks.
In a statement provided Wednesday, a Tri-County Health officials clarified that the interpretation of the state’s guidelines has been unharmonious across jurisdictions.
“Interpretation was different across the state regarding eligibility for the judicial system and we were not able to confirm guidance from the state,” Dr. Jennifer Ludwig, deputy director of Aurora’s public health agency, said via a spokesperson. “We are working with our 17th and 18th judicial districts to coordinate vaccination clinics in the coming weeks.”
Still, the vaccination clinics won’t provide enough shots for every court worker, Mason said. But he’s confident that staffers who have obtained doses via their own means in recent weeks will balance the the number of available doses.
When workers in Aurora’s municipal court could be the recipients of a coordinated vaccine distribution effort from the county remains a question mark, officials have said.
Aurora’s Chief Public Defender Doug Wilson, who signed a letter to health officials and Gov. Jared Polis in January asking them to prioritize defense attorneys in the vaccination queue, said he has yet to receive word from health officials regarding a vaccination timeline for his staff.
“We have never heard a word,” he wrote in an email.
Inoculations for incarcerated defendants also remain an unknown to the chagrin of policy advocates like the ACLU of Colorado. Both of Aurora’s largest county jails in Adams and Arapahoe Counties remain active outbreak sites, according to state data released March 3.
Tri-County Health officials have indicated they’re working with jail workers in at least Arapahoe County to coordinate doses for certain detainees at that region’s facility in Centennial in the coming weeks.
Elsewhere in local courtrooms, protecting unvaccinated jurors will also continue to present a challenge as trials slowly ramp back up, Mason said.
“A big question mark for me is: How do we protect jurors?,” he said. “The fact that we will have our court personnel vaccinated is a huge step forward, but we have to protect the public who are coming in for these trials, too.”
The top prosecutor for north Aurora said capacities will remain reduced and courtrooms will stay reconfigured in an effort to enhance social distancing during in-person proceedings.