​​​​​​​Calif. Northern District Postpones Trials

By Khorri Atkinson
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Law360 (May 21, 2020, 8:25 PM EDT) -- The Northern District of California's top judge issued an order Thursday postponing or vacating all new criminal jury trials set to begin through June 30 and new civil jury trials scheduled to commence through Sept. 30, citing the continued disruptions to the judicial system caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chief U.S. District Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton wrote in a two-page order that individual judges overseeing criminal trials "will make appropriate findings and enter an order tolling time under the Speedy Trial Act," and that those handling civil cases may hold videoconference bench trials instead of postponing them.

"Through September 30, 2020, all civil matters will be decided on the papers, or if the assigned judge believes a hearing is necessary, the hearing will be by telephone or videoconference," Judge Hamilton added. "This applies to motion hearings, case management conferences, pretrial conferences, settlement conferences, Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) proceedings, and bench trials."

The order also noted that grand jury proceedings will resume next month "on a date and in a manner to be determined."

Initial appearances and other proceedings before federal magistrate judges will continue by telephone or videoconference, and the judge added new arrestees must be booked at Santa Rita Jail and show up to court the following day instead of being presented for booking at the U.S. Marshals Service lockup.

Thursday's order means that a trial for a patent infringement fight between Israeli software maker Finjan and California-based tech giant Cisco Systems Inc. that currently involves 13 patent claims brought against Cisco, will be put off. The case was slated to go to a jury trial June 1, the day federal courts in the Northern District were slated to reopen.

U.S. District Judge Beth Freeman, who's overseeing the dispute, told counsel for Finjan and Cisco during an April 30 pretrial conference to prepare for a June 15 trial and that she is "fairly confident" Finjan's patent infringement suit could come before a jury in June and July. According to a notice in the case's docket, a case management conference is set for Tuesday and will be held over the Zoom platform.

Other cases impacted include a trial over criminal hacking charges against Russian national Yevgeniy Nikulin and a trial over claims by American Eagle pilots that their union treated Trans World Airlines pilots preferentially after American Airlines' acquisition of TWA.

Nikulin's trial began March 9 and was paused March 19 because of the novel coronavirus. The trial was subsequently scheduled to restart May 4 but was later paused again until June 1 after jurors and witnesses expressed concern about showing up to the courtroom during the pandemic.

In the airline pilots case, jury selection slated for April 6 was vacated. According to the docket, a teleconference status hearing in the case is set for June 4.

--Additional reporting by Dorothy Atkins. Editing by Orlando Lorenzo.

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

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