Saginaw County looking to hold criminal trials at Dow Event Center

Courtrooms are too small to hold trials during pandemic
Published: Oct. 12, 2020 at 5:01 PM EDT
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SAGINAW, Mich. (WJRT) - Its hosted concerts, professional hockey, the circus, and now an entertainment venue will most likely add another event, criminal trials.

Saginaw County is working on a plan to have criminal trials at the Dow Event Center, as the pandemic continues to create safety and social distancing issues.

The trials could begin at the Dow early next month. The county has not held a criminal trial since the coronavirus pandemic took hold in mid-March and a defense attorney says its about time people get their day in court, or in this case, the Dow.

“This has been tough for the entire industry, the entertainment industry has really been hit hard with little or no support,” says Dow Event Center General Manager Jon Block.

There’s been no Saginaw Spirit hockey at the Dow Event Center, no concerts, no big events since March, but Block says the entertainment venue has been helping the Great Lakes Bay Region during the pandemic by hosting mask drives, blood drives, and some Saginaw County governmental meetings. Criminal trials could be next.

“They haven’t been able to host trials over there because they can’t socially distance so are we working with them to find a solution to that,” says Block.

Saginaw county courtrooms are small, and we’ve learned Saginaw County Chief Judge Darnell Jackson is working to restart trials at the Dow, most likely in the Red Room area, where State of the City and County addresses are held each year.

“I am glad to see they are doing it because I have a number of clients sitting in the Saginaw County Jail awaiting their trial dates,” says defense attorney Jim Piazza.

He estimates he has more than 20 clients awaiting trial. Some have been waiting more than a year.

It could cost the county about $300,000 for forty days to hold trials at the Dow, costs for the space, security, and broadcast equipment. Piazza says regardless of the crime they are charged with, everyone deserves the right to a speedy trial.

“Just because they are charged with a crime and sitting in jail, doesn’t mean they are guilty,” says Piazza.

County Controller Robert Belleman says if this works out, the funding for conducting trials at the Dow Event Center will come from CARES act funds, which allows counties to be reimbursed for unbudgeted expenditures due to COVID-19.

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