As judge calls for outcry from civil bar, Central District extends ban on COVID-19 jury trials
The Central District of California is extending its ban on jury trials related to COVID-19 until February 28, a judge ruled on Tuesday.
“We will unfortunately lose our trial date of February 1,” U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney told civil attorneys in his courtroom for a 1:30 p.m. status conference in a trial. copyright lawsuit against rapper Cardi B, saying he ‘I heard the news about five minutes ago.
Carney said the Central District Executive Committee judges voted to extend the suspension. On Jan. 3, the committee suspended trials until Jan. 24, with an announcement from the clerk’s office citing “an alarming increase in COVID across the country and in the Central District of California.”
Meanwhile, the Northern District of California has yet to extend its suspension of trials, currently in place until Jan. 26.
Carney on Tuesday implored civil attorneys to do more to oppose stays of trials, saying, “The civil bar has been, quite frankly, silent during all of this.” While the Speedy Trial Act only governs criminal cases, Carney said civil attorneys can invoke the Seventh Amendment, which guarantees the right to a jury trial.
“Doing a civil trial is so much easier than doing a jury trial because you don’t have to have that many people,” Carney said. But “I haven’t seen much movement in the civil bar, quite frankly, about these delays and this backlog. It’s unfortunate.”
A. Barry Cappello of Cappello & Noel in Santa Barbara replied, “Well, you can see why, can’t you?”
Cappello, who along with Lawrence J. Conlan represents the plaintiff suing Cardi B, said the bar is split between plaintiffs and defense attorneys, and that the defense “generally, generally, as a general rule, would rather not not go to trial for a variety of reasons, particularly if insurance is involved.
“So the bar is split,” Cappello said.
Carney said the bar “may be divided, but the civil plaintiffs’ bar is a very powerful lobby.”
Cappello said the lobby is sometimes “so political.”
“Sometimes, especially in California, they align themselves with those who are more cautious,” Judge said.
The judge said he would try to reschedule the Feb. 1 trial until the end of the summer. Cappello grimaced.
“Do your best, please, your honor. This case has been around for so long,” Cappello said.
“Mr. Cappello, you sing for the choir,” Carney replied.
“We know your record trying to get cases judged during the pandemic, and we deeply appreciate that,” Cappello said.
Cappello was referring to Carney’s dismissal of four criminal cases under the Speedy Trial Act during the Central District’s initial 14-month trial stay from March 2020 to June 2021.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned Carney’s first dismissal in April, saying the judge dismissed the case not for lawful purposes but to try to coerce his colleagues on the bench to waive their trial ban. The Ninth Circuit then on January 6 denied a request for en banc review in a split vote comprising two approvals and one dissent. Federal defenders are considering filing for certification with the U.S. Supreme Court.
Along with Cardi B’s case, dozens of other cases have been affected by the Central District’s new trial stay, including a multi-defendant gang and RICO criminal case that was scheduled to begin trial this month in court. U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte.
The trial is set to begin Feb. 22 before U.S. District Judge John Walter in a lawsuit that Kobe Bryant’s widow, Vanessa Bryant, filed against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department over wrongful death scene photos taken and shared by MPs. And US District Judge Josephine Staton has a trial scheduled for February 15 in a criminal case against a man charged in connection with spa bombing who killed his ex-girlfriend. Staton told lawyers at a status conference on the case last week: “My goal is to make sure we can have a jury trial on February 15. I I will do everything in my power” to make this happen.
Still, Staton warned that the stay could be extended longer, and she considered the possibility of potential jurors showing up in court only to fill out questionnaires while the trial stay is still in effect.
Other judges are considering remote options for witnesses, including U.S. District Judge David O. Carter, who ordered attorneys in a patent case to summarize COVID-related needs for witnesses in a trial set to begin. January 25. Before his colleagues suspended the trials, Carter had moved the trial date to March, citing COVID precautions. After his colleagues suspended the trials until January 24, Carter postponed the trial to January 25.