Why Texas Justices Halted a Virtual Jury Trial

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Why Texas Justices Halted a Virtual Jury Trial

A personal injury claim against Allied Aviation Fueling Company of Houston Inc. was supposed to be tried virtually before a jury earlier this week.  However, the defendants petitioned for a writ of mandamus from the state supreme court asserting the trial judge has no authority to require a virtual jury trial.  The Texas high court promptly stayed the trial to assess the defense petition.  At issue is defendants’ argument, as quoted in Law 360: “The sole basis for the trial court's purported authority to compel a virtual jury trial over defendants' objections is this court's 38th emergency order.  But that order nowhere authorizes a jury trial to be conducted entirely remotely without the consent of all parties. The trial court abused its discretion in concluding otherwise."  The case is on ice until the appellate panel issues its ruling or the parties consent to a live jury trial.

“Benevolent Exclusion”

That’s the title of a new article by Southern Methodist University law professor Anna Offit.  She offers a historical and empirical account of how socioeconomic exclusion negatively affects the representativeness of juries.  Offit argues the dominant rationale for the exclusion is a perception that poor and otherwise burdened prospective jurors should be excused from jury service for their own benefit. The effect of this superficially benevolent rationale has led to the concealment and reinforcement of class-based jury discrimination. The article urges reform of this seemingly benign but exclusionary practice.  Professor Offit recommends structural changes that would make it possible for any eligible person to serve regardless of income or wealth.

Washington State Publishes Best Practices for Remote Jury Trials

The Remote Jury Trials Workgroup, an ad hoc committee commissioned by the Washington State Supreme Court, this week published recommendations regarding best practices for remote jury trials in light of the ongoing challenges posed by the pandemic. The workgroup’s goal was to help courts analyze issues involved with remote jury trials and to recommend best practices for them.  The recommendations prioritize practical and equitable issues.  The primary takeaway from the workgroup was that “remote jury trials must be structured around inclusivity. The parties, lawyers, judges, and prospective jurors all need access to high quality broadband internet. They also require adequate hardware and software, as well as training to ensure the remote trials satisfy constitutional, statutory, and court rule requirements….  [T]hese demands are resource-heavy, but access to justice principles demand nothing less.  Remote jury trials may require targeted budget allocations and infrastructure investments such as high-quality broadband access.”

What Should a Lawyer Do After Finding Out a Juror Has Lied During Voir Dire?

Promptly inform the court? His client? Opposing counsel?  Wait to learn what the verdict is?  Working with an appellate issue raised by Derek Chauvin’s defense team regarding one juror in that case, veteran white collar defense lawyer Joel Cohen parses these questions in The New York Law Journal (subscription required).  His analysis includes this point, “The real issue here, though, is what a lawyer is obliged to do when he or she has come to learn—and clearly so—that a juror has lied or is lying. This, particularly in an age when googling the juror and other investigative means are being employed by trial attorneys. If a lawyer undertakes to ‘investigate’ in a diligent way individual jurors or the entire jury panel, and becomes more-than-suspicious that a juror has at least dissembled, a lawyer should think more than twice before deciding not to disclose what she has discovered.”

Upcoming Webinar – “Public Health Considerations in an Era of Expanding Vaccine Rates”

As vaccination levels rise and the country continues to reopen, it’s time for another update on numerous important public health and safety considerations that should be integrated into any in-person court operations.  On June 15 at 3 p.m. ET, NCSC is hosting a webinar called “Public Health Considerations in an Era of Expanding Vaccine Rates.”  The program will include presentations from infectious disease specialists and epidemiologists highlighting recommendations for safely reopening court spaces. Approaches to masking and social distancing, both for court staff and the public, will be a focus of the discussion. Court leaders will also discuss how they have addressed the numerous challenges presented in this transitional time. Register here for this virtual event.