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.
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.
The US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia is the fastest federal docket in the country. The court’s motto is “Justice delayed is justice denied.” But, as they say, the virus doesn’t care about your motto. Yesterday evening, the Clerk of Court sent out this email:
“All criminal jury trials in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia are temporarily suspended, with criminal jury trials to resume on January 19, 2021, absent further Order from this Court. Such temporary suspension is in response to the significant increase in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and percent positivity in our District; the increase in known and suspected COVID-19 exposure of court personnel and court users; and the recent statewide and local community actions increasing restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.”
The nation’s fastest federal district court is the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division. A complex civil case can go from complaint to trial in about eight months. They’ve been holding in-person hearings in Alexandria for months.
Monday, a criminal jury trial was underway in Judge Thomas Selby Ellis’s courtroom. The defendant is charged with production and distribution of child pornography (in this case, sending an Instagram video to an underage sexual partner depicting them having sex). There are two assistant US attorneys and one defense attorney, easing the logistics of trial. The court has moved this case with all due speed. The defendant was arraigned on March 13, as the nation was locking down. Just seven months later, he is at trial, almost as if there had been no pandemic. The trial date was set on June 30, and in keeping with Alexandria practice, it has stuck.
Judge Ellis issued an order at the start of the trial stating: “Indicators from state health officials are is that the COVID-19 virus is not contained within the Eastern District of Virginia and the urgent nature of this trial will not allow the court to delay until it is safer to call jurors to report.” Judge Ellis therefore “determined that an emergency hardship situation is present where accommodations are needed to be taken by the court to protect the health and safety of jurors and minimize exposure to the virus in order for them to be able to serve.” He ordered the jurors to remain within the courthouse all day, “and the Clerk is to procure jury meals as necessary.”