NY, Los Angeles Join Piecemeal Jury Trial Restart Across US
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Law360 (August 25, 2020, 10:31 PM EDT) — Courts across the country are testing the waters of resuming in-person jury trials with safety precautions, months after the coronavirus pandemic caused many of them to close their doors to nonessential proceedings.
Major court systems, including New York’s state system and Los Angeles Superior Court, have begun reviving in-person jury trials in recent days, joining courts across the country that have lifted their courthouse closures to varying degrees.
In New York, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore on Monday said the first petit jury summonses went out last week in the Fourth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Judicial districts and Suffolk County, where a limited number of civil and criminal trials have been scheduled on a pilot basis for September.
She said the state court system plans to restart jury trials on a pilot basis in other courts, including in New York City, upon approval of local proposals. Grand juries are operating in every county of the state, and the court of appeals will hear oral arguments in person in its September term, she said.
“Our efforts to gradually and responsibly restore in-person operations in our courthouses continue to go well in courts across the state,” Judge DiFiore said. “While the number of in-person proceedings, hearings and trials conducted so far has been limited, the overall experience has been positive and encouraging.”
Noting that most cases will continue to be heard virtually “for the foreseeable future,” the judge said courts will try to limit courthouse traffic, including by expanding e-filing. She said e-filing will be in place for New York City housing courts as soon as Oct. 5, when Staten Island and Queens will come online.
In Los Angeles Superior Court, the first in-person jury trial since March 23 is slated to begin Wednesday. A court spokesperson told Law360 Tuesday that participants in the trial — a criminal case involving a hit-and-run incident — will be masked, and social distancing protocols will be observed.
The court, which reopened to the public on June 15, had announced earlier this month that some criminal jury trials may start in September, but civil jury trials are postponed until January.
Some courts are preparing to open their doors for jury trials soon, while others have allowed jury trials for months. The Southern District of Indiana issued an order on Monday allowing jury trials to resume as of Sept. 1 — a provision that has been in place in the Northern District of Iowa since June.
In the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, a jury trial for a criminal defendant accused of conspiring to commit a Hobbs Act robbery began Monday in what a local news outlet said was the court’s first criminal trial in five months.
The Maryland court ordered last week that no members of the public or press are permitted in the courtroom but will instead be able to watch the proceedings on television from a separate courtroom or by dialing into a telephone conference line. Up to 10 spectators may be physically present to observe an in-court proceeding, unless otherwise ordered by the presiding judge, according to the order.
Elsewhere, courts have eased their in-person jury restrictions. Courts in Hawaii, Kansas, Illinois, Arizona, Wyoming, West Virginia, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee and the U.S. Virgin Islands have allowed jury trials to proceed to some degree, with safety precautions.
Courts are also conducting jury trials without meeting in person, as in Florida’s judicial system, where courts in Jacksonville, Daytona, Orlando, Fort Myers and Miami-Dade County are participating in a pilot program for remote civil jury trials.
More information on court operating procedures across the country is available here.
–Additional reporting by Cara Salvatore. Editing by Janice Carter Brown.
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