The US District Court for the District of Massachusetts held a Zoom update yesterday for the members of the D. Mass. bar. The chief judge and three other district judges reported about the success of four single-defendant criminal trials that have been held since trials began in this district.
While the judges felt the trials had been successful, they were clear that the protocols in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 make jury trials much more difficult than pre-pandemic. One judge shared a story about a juror standing up on the second day of trial and announcing she had to vomit (which she then did). But the show went on: The other jurors showed up the next morning, the sick juror was excused but tested negative for COVID-19 and the jurors ultimately deliberated over the course of three days.
The judges urged lawyers involved in civil cases to advise their clients that they should consider bench trials or Zoom trials, or wait until conditions change to have trials. The court is working together to schedule cases for trial because only a certain number of courtrooms are available that are large enough for trials with social distancing. Judge Patti B. Saris reported that it took a day and a half to select the jury due to the number of restrictions. Comparing that with pre-pandemic trials where jury selection usually took between two and three hours, the takeaway is that trials will go much slower while observing these protocols.