In the US District Court for the Western District of Texas, Judge Alan Albright’s closely watched patent trial is underway. The US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia just issued a notice that criminal jury trials would resume March 1. In Long Island, jury selection has been set for the bellweather opioid trial brought by the New York Attorney General. Spring has sprung.
Monitoring the Reopening
Case numbers are falling. Vaccination is proceeding. We may be on track for a return to in-person jury trials in federal court. The question is: When will we get there? Today, we have three bits of news on that topic:
- On Friday, the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois continued the suspension of jury trials through April 5, 2021.
- Also on Friday, the US District Court for the District of Minnesota continued the suspension of jury trials through May 2, 2021.
- In the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, Judge Lorna Schofield has set a major patent infringement jury trial for May 3. Notably, however, the April 23 final pre-trial conference is telephonic.
Updates from the Several States
A vaccine is on the way, but jury trials are not—at least not in many places. Yesterday Indiana suspended all jury trials in the state until March. North Carolina froze nearly all in-person court proceedings through at least January 14, 2021. The Western District of New York halted all jury trials at least through February 24. (The Western District includes Buffalo and Rochester.)
The Western District’s order, like many closure orders, also applies to grand jury proceedings. But not all grand juries are shut down. Last week a grand jury in the Southern District of California returned an indictment of a physician for crimes arising from his business venture selling COVID-19 “treatment kits,” which he advertised to one potential customer as a “miracle cure.” The defendant is a licensed physician and the former operator of Skinny Beach Med Spas in and around San Diego. According to the DOJ press release, the defendant agreed with a Chinese supplier to smuggle hydroxychloroquine powder into the U.S., lying to U.S. Customs by mislabeling a shipment as “yam extract.” The defendant is also charged with stealing the name and identifying information of one of his employees in order to create and submit a bogus prescription for hydroxychloroquine on the employee’s behalf, in order to sell the drugs at a markup to his customers.
Why cover a grand jury indictment on a trial blog? It’s what’s happening. Trials are not.
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 on the plaintiff’s team and three people on the defense—have tested positive for COVID-19. The trial had been set to resume November 30, but one juror didn’t feel comfortable returning to trial at any point, another said they wouldn’t feel comfortable unless the trial was postponed for a month and a third wouldn’t be able to return until December because of scheduling issues, Law360 reports. The result is a mistrial. Judge Mazzant is pushing all his scheduled December trials into 2021.
Checking in with SDNY
In the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, civil jury trials are on the calendar for the next few weeks. Whether they happen is anyone’s guess. Back in April, Judge Jed S. Rakoff set a jury trial in a multi-defendant Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) case to commence November 9. The case is still on the calendar, with motions in limine being briefed now. Meanwhile, Judge Denise L. Cote has an employment discrimination trial set to begin on November 9, with a final pretrial conference today, by telephone. And Judge Gregory H. Woods set a November 16 trial date back in August. The parties sought to continue the trial, and Judge Woods declined. Then, a week later, Judge Woods sua sponte put everything on hold. We will watch these cases with interest.