Miami-Dade Suspends Jury Trials Through Jan. 31

By Carolina Bolado
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Law360 (December 9, 2020, 7:06 PM EST) -- The chief judge of Miami-Dade's trial courts said Wednesday that all jury trials will be suspended through at least Jan. 31, 2021, due to an uptick in COVID-19 cases.

Judge Bertila Soto of Florida's Eleventh Judicial Circuit had hoped to slowly restart jury trials this fall, but said she would have to delay them until the new year in order to protect the health and safety of the community and court staff as COVID-19 cases rise in Miami-Dade County.

The news comes one day after the court put out a notice stating that an individual who worked in the criminal court building had tested positive for the coronavirus.

While other jurisdictions in Florida have been able to restart jury trials in recent months, courts in South Florida, where the pandemic has hit hardest, have been unable to do so safely. Administrative Judge Nushin Sayfie of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit's Criminal Division told Law360 in September that they had planned to start putting both criminal and civil cases on the trial calendar in late October or early November.

A spokeswoman for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court said that other than a pilot jury trial held in July, the court has held no other jury trials since shutting them down in March. She said that other trials were scheduled, but they have settled or continued to a future date.

The civil jury trial was part of a pilot program to test how state courts might be able to restart jury proceedings during the pandemic. The one-day trial in an insurance dispute involved a hybrid process in which eight jurors were selected via Zoom but heard the case in person in a socially distanced courtroom.

The nonbinding verdict was the first rendered by a jury in Florida since March. It happened on a day when Miami-Dade County reported more than 2,400 new coronavirus cases and local hospitals were operating at capacity because of an influx of COVID-19 patients.

--Editing by Regan Estes

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