Feb 25

final-jur-e headline

Alaska Case Demonstrates Legal Perils of Livestreaming Jury Trials

The Sun Journal’s description of State of Alaska v. Downs is a case study in how intentional actions of a trial judge combined with unintentional technical glitches can lead to a First Amendment side battle.  The recent criminal trial of Mr. Downs was conducted in person but, because of COVID public health precautions, there were no observers inside the courtroom.  Instead, the trial was livestreamed.  On the first day of trial, the judge prohibited broadcasting the voir dire to “protect juror privacy.”  Once the jury was selected, the three-week trial suffered numerous black outs of online coverage.  In addition, the judge announced he would take discretionary breaks while evidence was being presented “in order to preserve the privacy and dignity of the alleged victim” and that he would not announce when the livestream restarts. Instead, the public was told “you will need to refresh the page to get back into the courtroom.”  Several news outlets raised vigorous concerns in written filings to the judge during the trial—all of which resulted in at least regular audio-only coverage of the trial.  The Sun Journal piece did not report the outcome of the trial.  If there was a conviction, we may learn more from a possible appellate record.

Maryland Considers Repeal of Ex-Con Exclusions from Jury Service

After several years of unsuccessful legislative efforts, the Washington Post reports Maryland is “poised” to repeal the state’s law requiring exclusion of felons and misdemeanants from jury duty.  Both the Maryland House and Senate have passed slightly different versions of the bill.  There remains the task of reconciling those differences in conference.  If a law is eventually adopted, Maryland will join a small group of states trying to make juries more diverse and, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, make a dent in the number of citizens (twenty million) who are barred from jury service due to prior convictions.

Seating an Impartial Jury in First January 6 Criminal Trial

The National Law Journal ($) reports the first trial of a defendant who participated in the January 6 incursion of the Capitol will begin on February 28 in a Washington, D.C. federal courtroom.  The courthouse is located several hundred yards from the Capitol dome in a jurisdiction whose electorate cast a mere 10% of its vote for Donald Trump.  Pretrial questionnaires are being used to discern juror bias.  Stephen Saltzburg, a George Washington University Law School professor and co-director of the school's litigation and dispute resolution program, is quoted saying, "The challenge is going to be for whoever is presiding, judges are going to have to be sure that the voir dire process is adequate to remove the potential jurors who really have their minds made up about what happened on January 6 and who are inclined to hold every single person who was there equally responsible.”

Preparations Underway for Jury Selection in Michigan Governor Attempted Kidnapping Case

In another high-profile case involving political violence allegations, a federal judge in Grand Rapids, Michigan prepares for jury selection on March 8—a case involving several men charged with plotting to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer.  The trial is expected to last five weeks and may include more than 400 exhibits and nearly 50 witnesses. MLive.com quotes U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Jonker to say: “I don’t want the trial to become a referendum on whether the trucking convoy in Ottawa is good or bad, or whether what happened on Jan. 6 is an insurrection or legitimate political discourse. I want the focus to be on what happened in this case.”

Appellate Court Upholds Jury-Summoning Limitations on Older Persons During Pandemic

In Budd v. Kaiser Gypsum Company, Inc., Kaiser challenged a plaintiffs’ verdict for several reasons, including the Washington State trial court’s summoning policy to exclude citizens 60 years of age and older during the pandemic.  The defense asserted the special summoning policy violated statutory randomness requirements and constructively excluded a cognizable class.  An appellate panel rejected the claims.  With respect to randomness, the panel reasoned the court substantially complied with the relevant statute.  Regarding constructive exclusion of a class, the appeals court found the exclusion was not “systemic.” After reading the lengthy decision, one might wonder, “Is this a conclusion begging for a reason?”