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Content May Soon Run Out

What will we write about when all the courts have closed?

We are rapidly on the way to finding out, especially in the federal system. Here’s a summary of recent federal district court orders on jury trials:

Eastern District of Arkansas: Civil and criminal jury trials scheduled before January 15, 2021 are continued to a later date.

District of Colorado: Civil and criminal jury trials scheduled before January 8, 2021 are continued to a later date.

Northern District of Illinois: Civil and criminal jury trials suspended indefinitely.

Central District of Illinois: Civil and criminal jury trials suspended and shall be reset for a date after January 25, 2021.

Southern District of Illinois: Civil and criminal jury trials set through January 24, 2021 are cancelled and will be reset.

Northern District of Indiana: All jury trials scheduled to begin before January 29, 2021, are continued and will be rescheduled by the presiding judge “unless the presiding judge, in their discretion, determines on a case-by-case basis that a trial should proceed as scheduled.”

Southern District of Indiana: All “in person jury trials “are continued until at least January 25, 2021. “Jury trials conducted by video teleconference” may proceed upon motion and/or Order of the presiding judge.

District of Kansas: All criminal and civil jury trials are suspended until January 4, 2021.

Eastern District of Kentucky: Civil and criminal jury trials set through January 15, 2021 are “continued generally.” However, “any judge may, in his or her discretion, determine that the need to conduct a jury trial during this period outweighs the public health concerns addressed herein.”

Western District of Kentucky: No jury trial shall be scheduled to begin before January 3, 2021.

District of Maryland: All in-court proceedings are suspended.

District of Minnesota: All criminal and civil jury trials set for 2020 are continued. All “civil jury trial-specific deadlines” are also continued. Trial judges may approve exceptions.

Western District of Missouri: All criminal and civil jury trials set before January 4, 2021 are continued,

District of Nebraska: All civil and criminal jury trials set on or before December 1, 2020 are continued.

District of Nevada: All jury trials are postponed pending further notice.

Northern District of Oklahoma: All civil trials (the order does not distinguish between jury and bench trials) through November 30, 2020 are continued, but all other scheduling order deadlines remain in effect.

Western District of Pennsylvania: All civil and criminal trials scheduled to begin before February 8, 2021 are continued. “Notwithstanding the above, the Court intends on an initial basis to conduct one or more civil jury trials in each Division of the Court at one or more junctures occurring during the period of November 2020 through January 2021 in order to facilitate and assess the safe and effective implementation of operational protocols for jury trial operations. Such civil jury trials will be scheduled by the presiding judicial officer after consultation with the undersigned and shall not involve any detained participants.”

Western District of Texas: All civil and criminal jury trials set before November 30, 2020 are continued. However, divisions may opt out. (All eyes are on the Waco Division.)

District of Utah: All civil and criminal jury trials are continued through February 1, 2021.

Eastern District of Virginia: Civil jury trials are suspended indefinitely. No criminal jury trials will be held before January 19, 2021.

Eastern District of Washington: Civil and criminal jury trials are suspended for the rest of 2020.

Western District of Wisconsin: Civil and criminal jury trials are suspended through January 31, 2021.




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.




Federal Trials in Pittsburgh Postponed until February 2021

Last week, the US District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania entered an order continuing all civil and criminal jury trials in this district until February 8, 2021.

Since March 12, 2020, this court has entered orders continuing trials until a further date, and a few days before each order was set to expire, it has been renewed. These orders have each recounted several pages of public health circumstances before finding that the circumstances demand delaying trial proceedings. This latest order, however, noted that in the past several weeks there have been “material, persistent and significant increased numerical occurrences and positivity rates of COVID-19 infections and accompanying hospitalizations in the counties which make up this judicial District.”

Grand juries are allowed to continue meeting, naturalizations ceremonies can be scheduled where necessary, and court operations can continue through in-person and remote proceedings. Notably, the order also provides for criminal defendants who want relief from the ordered delay to file a motion under a miscellaneous proceeding. No motions have been filed, to date, seeking a trial.




What Reopening? Dockets on Hold in Multiple US Jurisdictions

The US District Court for the District of Massachusetts has sent out notices seeking information to reschedule federal civil jury trials for 2021. The rest of 2020 is off the table. Meanwhile, many courts that did restart their jury trial dockets are being forced to rethink that. In Tennessee, Memphis courts have put reopening plans on hold—including canceling the scheduled trial for the accused killer of NBA star Lorenzen Wright, which was scheduled to begin yesterday. Cincinnati courts canceled their jury trials, effective yesterday. In Idaho, only one county is open for jury trials. In Michigan, Livingston County postponed jury trials until further notice, as did all neighboring counties.

On the other side of the coin, however, a jury trial is underway in a homicide case in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania (Allentown and Easton). And rural counties in North Carolina are launching their first trials this week.




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

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