Concerns about the spread of the Covid-19 virus have begun to impact the U.S. legal system, and issues will likely continue as reports of illness spread across the country.
Many of the roughly 150,000 trials that take place each year in state and federal courts across the country summon jurors from their communities to serve. Putting groups of people together in light of the coronavirus outbreak raises real concerns about the risk of spreading the virus to others, especially with testing in the U.S. still so sparse.
“There are carriers among us — we’ve embraced that,” Bexar County, Texas Judge Rosie Speedlin Gonzalez told Bloomberg Law. “It’s a matter of when, not if, this thing snowballs.”
Some judges have taken a proactive approach. Judge Speedlin Gonzalez, for example, created rules to be followed within in her San Antonio courtroom to reduce the risk of virus spread. Last week, a federal judge in Washington state – the worst-hit region in the country – closed courtrooms in Seattle and Tacoma until at least the end of March. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco canceled all hearings that required the presence of all its judges for at least a month. And in New York, a judge postponed a much-anticipated trial involving the state’s claims against opioid manufacturers seeking damages for overdose deaths and economic damages.
No-shows among jurors has also increased in some areas. Some areas are seeing a near 50% increase in jurors not showing up or requesting to reschedule for a later date. Fewer jurors means jury pools could be impacted.
Ultimately, more judges may decide its best to delay court proceedings, which could put even more strain on an already crowded litigation calendar.