Federal, state courts increasingly cancel January trials citing Omicron

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REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

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  • Federal courts in California and Connecticut on Monday delayed trials set for January
  • Federal trials in Maryland, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., already delayed

Jan 4 (Reuters) - A growing number of federal and state courts are calling off holding jury trials in January, citing the rise in COVID-19 infections fueled by the fast-spreading Omicron variant and the need to keep potential jurors, lawyers and staff safe.

The latest announcement came late Monday from the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, which said the "alarming surge" in infections warranted a three-week pause on jury trials in the cities of Los Angeles, Santa Ana and Riverside.

The court said its courthouses had already seen an increase of suspected and confirmed COVID-19 cases and that suspending jury trials was needed to protect public health and safety and ensure the court can continue performing essential functions.

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The announcement came shortly after Connecticut's federal district court said it would delay any trials set to begin before Feb. 1.

"The court is doing the right thing," Terence Ward, the chief federal defender in Connecticut, said in an email. "There is no safe way to conduct jury trials right now with the huge increase in COVID cases."

Federal district courts in Washington, D.C., and New Jersey last week similarly suspended trials for much or all of January, while Maryland's did so earlier last month.

Several state courts across the country have made similar moves, including on Monday Ohio's Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, which covers Cleveland, and several local courts in Colorado.

Massachusetts and New Hampshire state courts last week paused all jury trials in January, while Maryland's and Hawaii's took similar steps earlier in December.

Many appellate courts have similarly called off in-person arguments in favor of virtual ones.

Still, trials are moving ahead in many jurisdictions including New York City, where about 34% of residents who have been tested for COVID-19 had a positive result in the last week.

The Manhattan-based Southern District of New York recently began requiring people to wear N95 or KN95 masks and has adopted other safety protocols, such as increasing the size of jury boxes and having witnesses testify from plexiglass booths.

New York State Chief Judge Janet DiFiore on Monday said the state's courts "will continue with our in-person proceedings while, of course, monitoring the metrics very closely, assessing the situation in each courthouse and staying ready to pivot."

Read more:

Federal appeals courts restrict public operations amid COVID surge

U.S. federal courts add restrictions, delay some trials amid Omicron surge

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Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at nate.raymond@thomsonreuters.com.