IN THE NEWS: SOONER OR LATER FOR VIRUS-DELAYED JURY TRIALS
“As the state judiciary resumes proceedings in jury trials interrupted by COVID-19, the startup of any new jury trials still appears a long way off,” Charles Toutant writes in the New Jersey Law Journal. Meanwhile, a Law360 bulletin announced that a California jury has reconvened to award money in a virus-delayed trial.
The story of jury shutdowns – or reopening – is far from over, we realize at Ramey & Hailey Law. The only reason that California trial was allowed to resume, Y. Peter Kang explained in Law360, is that it was the only pending case on the court’s docket when the shutdown occurred. The case was used as a “guinea pig” test case, Kang explains, to see how jury trials could be handled during the pandemic.
“Unfortunately, the closing of courtrooms across the country has affected hundreds of people whose day in court will be delayed. COVID-19 has challenged the way we all think about the legal system,” Luther Battiste, National President of the American Board of Trial Advocates said.
“Jury trials are the bedrock of our justice system, expressly provided for in the Constitution and in the Sixth and Seventh Amendments,” a new report on conducting federal jury trials during the pandemic explains. At the same time, each court must develop and implement protocols that will minimize the health and safety risks for:
- parties to lawsuits
- members of the public
- members of the press
- court employees
“What parts of the jury trial are absolutely critical to be held in person with all that involves, and what parts can we do other ways — whether online or through questionnaires or other sorts of mechanisms?” That is the question facing legal experts, who, as Maria Dinzeo writes in Courthouse News Service explains, “see a tough road ahead” when it comes to jury trials.
Of all the life functions, adaptation may have become the most important, as I emphasized when co-chairing the June 4 webcast for the National College of Advocacy. The four hour educational event focused on technology and techniques for conducting legal depositions in this remote COVID-19 environment.
“As government stay-at-home orders are lifted and courts prepare to reopen their doors, advocates have called for the reinstatement of jury trials to maintain litigants’ constitutional rights and preserve public confidence in the courts.” Kate Ross and Sarah Aberg write in the governmentcontractslawblog. Convened to recommend directives and policy changes related to the COVID-19 health emergency, the Task Force is made up of federal judges, clerks, attorneys, and executives from a number of circuits across the U.S.
When it comes to jury trials, it looks as if returning to pre-COVID-19 norms will be coming later rather than sooner!