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Guidance for Conducting Civil Jury Trials During the COVID-19 Pandemic

JUNE 15, 2020

It has been an honor and privilege for me to serve on the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA) COVID-19 Task Force. I have done so with an outstanding group of accomplished trial lawyers, judges, and scientists that represent diverse interests and different regions across the country. Together, we examined specific coronavirus-related issues that have affected civil jury trials in the U.S. and the parties, jurors, witnesses, lawyers, and judges who participate in them. Our work is set forth in the recently published white paper entitled, “Guidance for Conducting Civil Jury Trials During the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

Like all other aspects of our lives during this pandemic, courthouses have been adversely affected by the outbreak of COVID-19. All around the country, courts have been closed or restricted and those seeking their “day in court” have experienced disruptions and postponements. As part of ABOTA’s task force, I was pleased to contribute my ideas and opinions to help make the courts once again available to the people, and to weigh in on how jury trials can be conducted with both preferred live (in-person) appearances and the use of virtual tools to overcome obstacles.

Founded in 1958, ABOTA is a national association of experienced trial lawyers and judges dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the right to a civil jury trial as provided by the Seventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Our white paper provides specific guidelines and best practices about how trials—including jury selection, opening statements, testimony and demonstrative evidence, closing arguments, jury deliberations, and verdicts—can proceed safely and effectively as we as a nation navigate this highly contagious illness.

ABOTA’s recommendations include, among other things:

  • Requiring physical distancing, proper hygiene, frequent cleaning and disinfection of courtrooms, and the use of masks, gloves, and plexiglass dividers when possible;
  • Limiting the physical handling of exhibits;
  • Controlling the movements of trial participants;
  • Allowing for remote testimony; and
  • Doing all that is necessary to protect the sanctity of jury deliberations

I am proud to be a member of ABOTA and of the efforts of the COVID-19 Task Force. The right to a jury is unique to our democracy and essential to our individual freedoms especially in times like ours. I encourage everyone to read the white paper, linked above, and will be happy to discuss our findings and ideas about protecting this important American institution.

We are working diligently to keep our clients up to date on coronavirus-related developments. Nevertheless, these developments are changing daily and, in some cases even hourly, so it is important that you make sure you are dealing with the most current information. That being said, this alert is not offered, and should not be relied on, as legal advice. You should consult an attorney for guidance and counsel regarding any specific concern or situation.