No decision made on Harris County jury selection amid lease with NRG Arena ending soon

The lease for NRG Arena does not include the next two months

HOUSTON – Harris County Commissioners met briefly during an executive session Tuesday to discuss possible future locations to hold jury selections but stopped short of deciding.

The county’s current lease at the NRG Arena prohibits them from using the venue during the months of February and March while the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo take place. This gives the county a few weeks to determine where the jury selection will take place.

Joe Vinas is the president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association. He said he’s never been a fan of the NRG Arena for jury selection. Vinas said the masks, face shields and the arena’s layout present challenges.

“You can’t see jurors. It’s very difficult to understand jurors when you’re picking a jury at NRG,” he said.

Vinas said he would like to see it be brought back downtown near the Criminal Justice Center. The county’s jury assembly room was damaged during Hurricane Harvey, but the facility has been renovated and ready since October.

“It would be much easier,” he added. “Much more efficient and we wouldn’t be spending millions and millions and millions of dollars of taxpayer money to rent a building when we already have one designed for this specific purpose that’s ready to go now.”

The facility is not currently being used due to concerns jurors would not be able to adequately social distance.

Precinct 4 Commissioner and former judge Jack Cagle said he’s in favor of the county using its current facilities to cut down on the massive backlog of criminal cases.

“Let’s allow the people to do their civic duty of serving as a jury to be able to do so safely, efficiently and quickly,” Cagle said.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said Hurricane Harvey and the pandemic both contributed to the backlog. He said commissioners won’t allow any entity to cause another disruption to the flow of the criminal justice system.

“We’re gonna continue to work and move forward regardless of the Rodeo, regardless of NRG,” Garcia said. “Ultimately, my goal is to bring all the operations back here near the criminal justice system complex where it makes greater sense.”

Garcia said he is going to do inventory to see which judges are using juries. He said he’s unsure at this time if he will need to bring forth a motion to continue the discussion at future commissioner’s court meetings.