July 8, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Kate Coscarelli
NEW BRUNSWICK – The New Jersey State Bar Association released a report and recommendations for the resumption of jury trials in the New Jersey courts following the systemic disruption of trials due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The proposals are meant to aid the restart of jury trials while accommodating and preserving essential constitutional protections and protecting the health of all involved in the justice system.
The NJSBA Pandemic Task Force Committee on the Resumption of Jury Trials, conducted a comprehensive review of best practices in many jurisdictions and devoted hours of collective thought, analysis and debate among practitioners who are regularly engaged in trial practice on behalf of their clients. It was comprised of civil trial attorneys, criminal defense attorneys, county prosecutors and former members of the Judiciary. The New Jersey Association for Justice and Trial Attorneys of New Jersey also reviewed and endorsed the report.
“When considering any recommendations to resume jury trials, the two paramount considerations must be the health and safety of all participants and the protection of the right to a trial with a representative, fair and impartial jury. At this time of social justice protest and reform, we are particularly cognizant of the need for a plan that produces a jury pool reflective of the diversity in the community,” the report states.
The recommendations are intended as a starting point and are designed to be flexible to accommodate the tide of changing events still roiling society and the courts.
“A live, in-person jury is the cornerstone of our civil and criminal justice system,” the report states. “We do not believe that virtual jury trials will satisfy constitutional mandates. That being said, we believe communication technology can be used to make the jury selection process safer, while conserving judicial resources.”
The proposal lays out a path that includes initial, secure virtual communications that are available to all potential jurors, while including essential in-person observation during the final phase of jury selection. The multi-stage plan, that aims to protect the health of all involved with the justice system, includes:
Jury duty notification and video introduction to the court system;
Available screening of jurors by jury management;
Preliminary voir dire via remote questionnaire; and;
Final voir dire of jurors in person at the courthouse.
“The NJSBA offers these recommendations in the spirit of working cooperatively with the Court to resume court operations in a way that balances safety considerations against a litigant’s right to present their cases for resolution before a fair, representative and impartial jury,” said NJSBA President Kimberly A. Yonta, in a letter to the Judiciary.
Committee on the Resumption of Jury Trials Members
William H. Mergner Jr., chair
Craig M. Aronow
Hon. Dennis F. Carey III, P.J.Cv. (Ret.)
Michael G. Donahue
Kathleen Barnett Einhorn
Hon. Kenneth J. Grispin (Ret.)
Robert B. Hille
Reema S. Kareer
Brandon D. Minde
Brian J. Neary
Christopher M. Placitella