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Dark Winter for Trial Lawyers

Today there is a wave of news. Delaware froze jury trials, although only through December 4. New York state courts have suspended jury trials indefinitely. New Jersey has continued all jury trials, except one that is in progress. Tennessee suspended jury trials through January 31. Vermont, one of the states least impacted by the pandemic, never resumed holding jury trials, and it has canceled its plans to do so in December. Alaska has shut down jury trials through at least January 4. Pennsylvania has suspended most courthouse operations, including jury trials, statewide—just days after leaving it up to individual jurisdictions. And the US District Court for the Southern District of Indiana has suspended all jury trials through January 25. Meanwhile, in the suspended US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas breach of contract trial in Judge Amos Mazzant’s courtroom, which we’ve covered previously, now 13 participants—including two jurors, two people...

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New Jersey Appeals Court Stops First Pandemic Jury Trial

Earlier this week we told you that a New Jersey court was conducting voir dire partially by Zoom. The defendant objected that the process is unconstitutional because it yields a jury pool that is not a cross-section of the community. Now the court of appeals has halted the trial while it considers the issue. This result may be cited in criminal and civil jury trials nationwide, in both federal and state court. The issue of forming a representative jury pool in the midst of the pandemic has been worrying the judiciary for many months. Notably, the New Jersey Law Journal article on this case bears the headline “Appeals Court Halts State’s 1st Post-COVID-19 Jury Trial After Jury Selection Challenged.” But of course, we are not post-COVID-19. We are mid-COVID-19.  

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New Jersey’s Zoom Jury Selection Process Is Challenged

New Jersey’s first jury trial of the pandemic is underway in Bergen County. It’s a criminal trial, with the defendant accused of trying to set fire to his ex-wife’s home. Voir dire began last week, beginning with Zoom-based voir dire. Now the defendant has moved to suspend the trial until alleged constitutional deficiencies can be corrected or until “normal” jury selection can resume. The defendant raises issues that the judiciary has been grappling with since the pandemic began, writing: Bergen County’s implementation of electronic notifications, electronic jury questionnaire submissions, and Zoom-based voir dire has limited an entire socioeconomic group’s participation in jury service. Those who cannot afford a computer are eliminated from jury service because they cannot submit questionnaires. Others who cannot afford internet service are prevented from appearing at the initial stages of jury selection by Zoom. Furthermore, those who lost their jobs during...

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 McDermott’s litigation team monitors US courts as they reopen amid the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis.

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