As omicron COVID-19 cases surge, several courts pause jury trials

  • Print.

United States District Court, District of Maryland

The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland has put in place several safety measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

A California federal court said Wednesday it would suspend in-person jury trials following similar announcements by other state and federal courts amid the surge in omicron COVID-19 cases.

The Northern District of California said it would delay all criminal and civil jury trials through Jan. 26, impacting proceedings at its courthouses in San Francisco; Oakland, California; and San Jose, California.

It said it was taking action “effective immediately, due to recent developments in the COVID-19 public health emergency, including the rapid spread of the omicron variant.”

The news follows the Central District of California’s announcement on Monday that it would delay all civil and criminal trials for three weeks through Jan. 24.

The Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and Reuters have coverage.

Kiry K. Gray, district court executive and clerk of the court for the Central District of California, said there had been an uptick in coronavirus cases at courthouses. The district has courthouses in Riverside, California; Los Angeles; and Santa Ana, California.

“Given the increased rate of transmission of COVID-19 in the Central District of California due to the omicron variant, conducting jury trials would place court personnel, attorneys, parties and prospective jurors at undue risk,” the court’s statement said. “Accordingly, a temporary suspension of jury trials is necessary to protect public health and safety, as well as ensure the continuous performance of essential functions and operations of the court.”

The federal court in Connecticut announced Monday that it will delay trials set to begin before Feb. 1. The court’s order cited the risks of seating jurors close to each other and the “reduced ability to obtain an adequate spectrum of prospective jurors due to the public’s perceptions of the risks associated with jury service.”

Reuters reported Tuesday that an increasing number of federal courts are delaying trials, including in Washington, D.C., New Jersey and Maryland. State courts in Ohio, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maryland and Hawaii had also announced delays.

In some jurisdictions, trials are still going ahead. In New York, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore of the New York State Court of Appeals said in-person proceedings will continue, but the state courts will be “monitoring the metrics very closely, assessing the situation in each courthouse and staying ready to pivot quickly to make any and all appropriate adjustments necessary to respond to problem areas or new public health guidance.”

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “6 tips from infectious disease experts for in-person court proceedings”

ABAJournal.com: “Federal appeals courts go remote amid COVID-19 surge”

ABA Journal: “Courts attempt to balance innovation with access in remote proceedings”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.