Feared Holiday Virus Surge Further Delays Mass. Trials

By Brian Dowling
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Law360 (November 20, 2020, 5:01 PM EST) -- Jury trials in Massachusetts will have to wait until 2021, the state's trial court and judicial administrators said Friday, citing the expected resurgence of the coronavirus around the holidays.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court said it now expects jury trials in the state to restart in January, after initially targeting late October. (iStock.com/frimufilms)

The Supreme Judicial Court said it now expects jury trials to resume the week of Jan. 11, marking the second time the courts have had to adjust their timeline. The SJC and Trial Court pointed to the "expectation of rising infections during the holiday period" as the source of concern and rationale for further delay.

Last week, SJC Associate Justice Kimberly Budd — the court's chief justice in waiting after her confirmation Wednesday — said the state has to be "very careful" with its decision on when and how to restart jury trials.

"We are not going as quickly as we'd like to do," Justice Budd said. "We have to figure out a way to do this without creating a superspreader event."

The SJC initially penciled in Oct. 23 as the earliest feasible date to restart trials, following a detailed study in August on how jury trials court restart in Massachusetts while the pandemic remained a risk.

October came and went, and the courts then targeted the end of November, going as far as scheduling trials in Woburn, Plymouth and Fall River for the week after Thanksgiving.

But with cases and hospitalizations rising in Massachusetts and across the country, court administrators have chosen to delay trials again.

Jury summonses for the trials set for late November will be canceled, the SJC said, and those trials will be rescheduled.

The court's committee on resuming jury trials acknowledged in August that there won't be a safe way to do so while the pandemic remains a risk, but it also noted that 3,000 jury trials had been scheduled but not held by that time due to the health crisis.

Trials held in the first, two-month phase of the state's plan would be largely civil and minor criminal cases. The trials would have juries of six people, or seven or eight when including alternates.

Later phases would increase the number of courthouses eligible to hold trials and expand the jury size to 12-person panels.

--Editing by Stephen Berg.

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