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March 5, 2021

Preserving Fair-Trial Rights in the Time of COVID and Beyond

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This month, the Washington Legal Foundation published an article written by Wendy Lumish, Amanda Heitz and Daniel Rock.

As courts around the country begin to open back up, judges are facing increasing pressure to get through the backlog of cases caused by pandemic-related shutdowns. To do so, many courts are relying on reforms that were hastily adopted in the name of efficiency and public health, most often without the opportunity for significant debate, discussion, or meaningful study from bar associations or other groups. These unstudied remedies pose threats to the trial rights of civil litigants. 

This Legal Backgrounder will identify pandemic-induced changes that imperil fair-trial rights and provide guidance on where to focus when challenging their use in litigation now and in the future. In particular, the limited availability of jurors and efforts to reduce the amount of time the venire spends in a courtroom have motivated courts to reduce panel sizes and limit peremptory challenges in civil cases. Likewise, social distancing and efforts to limit the number of participants in the courtroom will potentially result in proceedings without live witnesses, parties, and counsel. In some cases, courts have found that the only viable solution is a virtual trial. Civil litigants must take steps to ensure that these short-term solutions do not deprive litigants of their right to a fair jury trial and that these changes do not become permanent.

Continue reading the article here.


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