Yes, Texas jury trials are being conducted by trial attorneys during the pandemic – but they are few and far between. Jury trials have been delayed as a result of court closures and social distancing requirements. Some jurisdictions even attempted to require trial lawyers to hold jury trials over Zoom – but as you might imagine, virtual trials left much to be desired.
I managed to take a civil trial to verdict in early June, and it was the first civil verdict (in the U.S.) since quarantines began. As one of the few attorneys making a court appearance during the tumultuous 2020 court docket, I’d like to share what it is like to be a trial attorney during a pandemic.
A Little Background on Our Civil Case
The case that went to verdict was actually quite an interesting case. Most people love a good story, and this particular case was a bit of a whirlwind. It centers around a 70-year-old client who was shopping at the Legacy West Shopping Center. A new store (Tommy Bahama) was being constructed at the shopping center, so contractors had a fence around the work area.
Unfortunately, the base of the fence was jutting out on the sidewalk right where people walked. As my client was walking along the sidewalk, she tripped over the fence and shattered her wrist. She ended up with four screws and a metal plate in her thumb.
We filed a suit against the responsible parties and the contractors settled, but the fence supplier refused to work with us – meaning the case had to go to trial.
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Constitutional Right to a Texas Jury Trial
Once we knew the case was going to trial, a key issue arose: should we request a jury on behalf of our client, or appear before a lone judge (known as a bench trial)? Given our client’s situation, we felt it was best to proceed with a jury trial. And here’s the thing most people do not know – you have a constitutional right to request a jury trial – even in civil cases like personal injury.
Whenever I am selecting a jury as a trial attorney, I like to ask them some questions about the constitution – and find out what they know about constitutional rights. Most jurors immediately start discussing freedom of speech and the right to bear arms (two popular constitutional amendments). We’ll discuss various amendments – including protections against unlawful searches and the right to remain silent. At some point, I always ask which constitutional right the jurors find most important, and after a bit of debate, jurors usually claim that all of our constitutional rights are equally important. After all, our rights and privileges support one another, and one right is not as valuable without the other rights.
I agree that all of our rights are equally important – and yet most individuals are unaware of some of the most important protections within the constitution. Are you familiar with the Seventh Amendment? Answering honestly, most people would say, “no.” But, the Seventh Amendment – the right to a jury trial in civil cases – has led to many improvements in the lives of Americans. In personal injury cases, juries help make our communities safer by setting safety standards we expect others to abide by. When companies and individuals are not held accountable for injuries to innocent victims, our world becomes a little less safe.
What Texas Jury Trials Look Like During a Pandemic
Just as I am concerned about safety and accountability for injuring others – our courts have to protect juries (as well as everyone involved with a case) during a pandemic. In Texas, everyone that entered the courthouse had to have their temperature checked, as one way of screening for coronavirus. Everybody in the building had to wear masks and remained at least six feet apart at all times.
As the trial lawyer when selecting the jury members, I asked if anyone felt uncomfortable being on a jury during a pandemic. I did not want any at-risk individuals to expose themselves to COVID-19 if they were uncomfortable with the risks. It turns out, everyone involved in this particular trial was willing to be part of the process and fulfill their civic duty.
Courtroom staff were also phenomenal about keeping the courtroom disinfected and clean. As a trial lawyer, I cannot express how much everyone appreciated the bravery of the jury and courtroom staff for working during a pandemic.
Why Move Ahead with Texas Jury Trials During a Pandemic?
The case in question was originally scheduled to go to trial in March. But, with the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and government closures, March did not seem like the right time to proceed. In May, the Judge contacted us saying the case could move forward if we were ready. At that time, case rates were relatively low (compared to what happened in the following months) and everyone predicted there would be a rise in cases in later months – making it logical to proceed before things worsened. Not only that, but justice delayed is often justice denied.
Granted, this trial occurred at the beginning of summer – and coronavirus numbers have spiked all over Texas since then. I am not sure it would be in anyone’s best interest to go to court when the numbers are as high as they have been. Every case has to be looked at individually – whether clients, courtroom staff, and juries feel comfortable, and whether safety measures are practical to protect everyone involved.
The Attorneys at Underwood Law Office Can Help!
We are a trial attorney law firm and we primarily represent people who have been injured in catastrophic accidents – anything from a slip and fall to an environmental disaster.
If you have been harmed through no fault of your own, you have rights. At Underwood Law Office, our McKinney personal injury trial lawyer will fight for our clients’ constitutional rights no matter what hurdles stand in our way. Together, we can help you get the compensation you need to get your life back on track.
If you would like more information (or to find out if you have a case) contact our office for a free, no-obligation consultation.