Jury Trials in the COVID-19 Era: The Importance of a Predetermined Trial Plan
By Stuart J. Purdy
Stuart J. Purdy is a recognized trial lawyer and shareholder with Simon Greenstone Panatier, PC. Stuart manages the Firm’s California office while serving as one of the lead trial lawyers for the Firm. His verdicts over the past decade have regularly made "top verdicts" lists and appear in published appellate decisions.
On Thursday, March 12, 2020, I was one week into a jury trial in New Jersey, and boarded a flight from Newark back home to Los Angeles for the long weekend. I left my clothing and trial set-up in a hotel room with the intention of returning on Sunday to rest my client’s case that Wednesday. I called for a ride to catch my flight Sunday morning but received an abrupt email from the court that trial was suspended. I never made it back to New Jersey, and the proceedings ended in a mistrial due to COVID-19.
Back in Los Angeles, the superior court similarly closed civil courtrooms to assist in combatting the spread of the coronavirus. All civil jury trials were suspended. The next in-person civil jury trial in L.A. Superior Court would not commence until March 19, 2021. My colleague, Tyson Gamble, and I had the honor of trying that case, McNeal v. Whittaker, Clark & Daniels. When the jury issued its punitive damages verdict on April 16, nearly 13 months had gone by since the initial suspensions of jury trials. McNeal was the first in-person civil jury in L.A. Superior Court since the beginning of the pandemic. This article focuses on the importance of working with the court and opposing counsel to execute a predetermined plan for trial that addresses the necessary pandemic-related concerns and restrictions.