As the Coronavirus (COVID-19) grips our State and Nation, the impact of the pandemic is felt across many aspects of society, including the legal system. The situation is ever-changing, day-by-day and hour-by-hour.
As one might imagine, when public gatherings are banned or limited, legal proceedings may be affected. Jury trials involve assembling numerous prospective jurors, sometimes a few dozen, and sometimes a hundred or more.
Thus far, courts in Arizona have taken various steps to address the crisis. In what may seem like an eternity ago, on March 4, 2020, the Arizona Supreme Court issued Administrative Order 2020-41 to address this crisis.
Notably, this Order did not stop any legal proceedings, including jury trials. Essentially, the Order left it to the discretion of individual judges to decide how to handle the current situation.
For example, the Supreme Court encouraged the use of audio and video links to conduct proceedings and to present witnesses. Nowadays, technology is good enough to present witnesses effectively with video conferencing.
However, on March 16, 2020, the Maricopa County Superior Court suspended all jury selection, at least for that date. Maricopa County appears to be taking a day-to-day approach, at least for the moment.
The Pima County Superior Court has not taken any specific action as of this date. Its website refers people to the Pima County Health Department, which advises that as of March 16th there are 4 positive cases of Coronavirus in the county. The Health Department characterizes the risk as “low”.
Further, in the last week, we have seen and heard of situations in which Arizona State Court judges have expressed concern regarding this issue, how prospective jurors may feel about being called for jury duty and whether such jurors can focus on the case at hand versus worrying about being exposed to a potentially life-threatening illness. As a result of these concerns, some cases have been delayed.
The Federal Court in Arizona has taken a more direct approach. In its Order dated March 13, 2020, the District Court of Arizona automatically delayed all trials (both civil and criminal trials) set to begin on or before April 10, 2020. This order specifically addressed the potential health impacts on jurors.
The United States Supreme Court has also cancelled upcoming oral arguments. The Court is closed to the public until further notice. The Court remains “open for business”, and filling deadlines remain in place.
At Schmidt, Sethi & Akmajian, we will do our very best to pursue matters expeditiously within the context of this crisis and consistent with best practices to promote health and safety.
We expect more developments daily, and we will continue to update this acute situation.