The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly caused everyone in the legal industry to reimagine how we prepare for jury trials. With states being forced to suspend all jury trials in an effort to do their part to keep everyone safe, courts are mired in months of backlog they must work through. As courts reopen and begin to resume jury trials, the biggest question everyone is asking: “How will courts conduct jury trials?”
King County Superior Court has adopted a hybrid approach to answer that very question and address the backlog. For starters, civil jury trials will now take place at what is now known as the “pop-up courthouse,” Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue, WA. The addition of the pop-up courthouse will help address the significant backlog that was undoubtedly created due to the statewide shut down.
While attorneys are still required to appear in person at all stages of the trial, jury selection is now done remotely. Instead of jurors arriving at the court house for jury selection, they will now appear remotely and are not ordered to report to the courthouse until they have been assigned to a case. Although attorneys had concerns about prospective jurors having barriers accessing technology to appear, recent reports from King County about jury selection are encouraging. Indeed, one attorney reported on social media that the work they had done during jury selection reduced tech inequities, allowing those without remote access to still participate, resulting in a smart, thoughtful, diverse jury. Perhaps one benefit to this method is that we will continue to see more diverse jury panels in civil trials.
Speaking of virtual appearances, all witnesses will now appear by zoom for civil jury trials, absent good cause. Additionally, all documentary evidence should be submitted electronically so it can be shown to both the jurors and the testifying witness without the need for physical contact. This addition requires parties to workout technical issues in advance of trial to minimize interruption as much as possible.
While these are challenging times, we are thankful the King County Superior Court continues to lead the way to continuing to move cases forward while ensuring everyone is as safe as possible.