On August 14, 2020, Chief District Judge Larry Burns completed the first jury trial in the Southern District of California since the suspension of some proceedings due to the COVID-19 public health emergency on March 17, 2020.
In the case, Adams v. County of San Diego, 16-cv-02161-LAB-AHG (S.D. Cal. filed Aug. 26, 2016), Plaintiff James Adams sued the County of San Diego and several officers from the California Department of Justice Bureau of Firearms. At the close of trial, only two officers remained as the defendants. Adams claimed the officers used excessive force and battered him during his arrest. After hearing several days of evidence, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Adams on three out of four claims and awarded him $100,000 in damages. Adams was represented by Eugene Iredale, Julia Yoo, and Grace Jun of Iredale & Yoo, APC.
Writing for Daily Journal, Gina Kim reported: “There were eight jurors; each was seated at least 8 feet apart in the jury box. All courtroom entrants had to use hand sanitizer and wear face shields or masks. Witnesses weren’t masked so jurors could see their demeanors during testimony but Plexiglas was placed at the witness stand.” Kim notes Judge Burns received praise for “his thorough, careful handling of trial logistics despite the pandemic and moving trial efficiently in a timely fashion.” And Iredale believes they “had a fair cross-section of the community, and the screening for requests to be excused due to virus exposure didn’t result in a skewed panel.”
The successful trial follows the Southern District’s mock trial held earlier this month. With the help of the San Diego Chapter, the court previewed the new procedures for trials during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Judge Anthony Battaglia, who has spearheaded the court’s efforts to restore jury trials, said that the court consulted with a public health doctor who reviewed the court’s plan. These procedures include staggered arrival times for jurors reporting for duty, face shields and sanitizing wipes for jurors, and socially distanced jury selection in the court’s large jury assembly room. Once in the courtroom, judges have different options for how to complete trials while maintaining social distancing. For more information on these procedures and to view excerpts from the mock trial, see Federal Jury Trials and Social Distancing - Updated with Q&A. Bianca Bruno with Courthouse News also summarized the court’s preparations.