'Varsity Blues' Parents Seek Another Trial Delay Due To Virus

By Melissa Angell
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Law360 (January 25, 2021, 11:00 PM EST) -- A group of parents scheduled to head to trial in April over their alleged role in the "Varsity Blues" college admissions scandal asked a Massachusetts federal judge Monday to delay their trial once again, citing increasing COVID-19 cases and the spread of more contagious coronavirus variants.

In a 17-page motion, the parents accused of paying bribes to get their kids into elite colleges urged the judge to push their already-postponed trial to the fall, given that current conditions imposed by the pandemic make trial preparation "impracticable and unsafe."

"The types of gatherings necessary for trial preparation — frequent medium-sized in-person gatherings for multiple hours that include attendees who have traveled from outside of the local area — are exactly those types that the CDC classifies as 'higher risk' and 'highest risk' and those that state and local governments discourage or prohibit from occurring," the motion said.

The parents in the case are accused of falsely passing their children off as athletic recruits to get them into elite universities by paying bribes to school officials through admitted scheme mastermind William "Rick" Singer.

In their motion, the parents argued that the majority of witnesses, attorneys and defendants reside in areas currently undergoing massive coronavirus spikes that show no sign of slowing down as vaccination efforts continue to lag.

The U.S. has had more than 25.2 million cases of coronavirus as of Monday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Much of the work to prepare for trial — such as reviewing recordings with witnesses — must be conducted in-person, according to the motion. Furthermore, the group argued that every person in the courtroom must be vaccinated in order to hold a safe trial — which they said is unlikely to occur in just three months.

"This, practically, will not happen before mid-2021, and certainly will not happen in the next few weeks when the parties will have to start trial preparation in earnest if an April trial is to occur," the motion said.

U.S. District Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton agreed in October to push back the parents' trial due to the pandemic, but warned the defendants that the trial will not continue to be delayed indefinitely.

A trial for another group of parents charged in the case is scheduled for September 2021.

In August 2020, actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion-designer husband Mossimo Giannulli were sentenced to two months and five months in prison, respectively, for their roles in the college admissions scandal, after admitting to paying bribes to get their two daughters into the University of Southern California as fake rowing recruits.

Prosecutors secured an indictment of Loughlin and Giannulli for paying $500,000 in total, styled as donations, to Singer and USC athletics funds to facilitate their daughters being designated as athletic recruits to the university's rowing team. The scheme included taking photographs of their daughters on ergometers for fake athletic profiles submitted to the school.

Counsel for the parties did not immediately respond to Law360's requests for comment Monday.

The government is represented by Justin O'Connell, Karin M. Bell and Kristen A. Kearney of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts.

Marci Palatella is represented by Michael K. Loucks and Jack P. DiCanio of Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP.

I-Hsin "Joey" Chen is represented by Reuben Camper Cahn of Keller Anderle LLP.

Elisabeth Kimmel is represented by Eóin P. Beirne of Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo.

Amy and Gregory Colburn are represented by David S. Schumacher, Jordan Kearney and Patric Hooper of Hooper Lundy & Bookman PC.

The cases are U.S. v. Colburn et al., case number 1:19-cr-10080, and U.S. v. Ernst et al., case number 1:19-cr-10081, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

--Additional reporting by Dave Simpson and Brian Dowling. Editing by Breda Lund.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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