U.S. judge calls unvaccinated adults 'unpatriotic' as Omicron prompts trial delay

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REUTERS/Michele Tantussi

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  • U.S. District Judge Robert Scola criticizes unvaccinated adults as "uninformed and irrational"
  • Defendant objected to having all-vaccinated jury

(Reuters) - A federal judge in Florida in a scathing order delayed an upcoming trial due to the surge in COVID-19 cases as he blasted adults who have yet to get vaccinated as "uninformed and irrational, or – less charitably – selfish and unpatriotic."

U.S. District Judge Robert Scola, an appointee of former Democratic President Barack Obama, in Tuesday's order said that given the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, he had proposed requiring all jurors in the Feb. 7 trial to be vaccinated.

But Scola said lawyers for Progressive Select Insurance Co, which is defending against claims for coverage by a motorist who was in a car crash in 2019, objected, saying they did not want to exclude unvaccinated jurors.

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Scola called getting vaccinated against COVID-19 part of a broader social obligation "to consider the safety and well-being of our community." He said most adults in Miami-Dade County had met that obligation with over 94% having been vaccinated.

About 87% of the U.S. adult population has received at least one vaccine dose and 73.6% are deemed fully vaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Those who have not been vaccinated, Scola argued, "have given a distorted meaning to the COVID-19 vaccine, rather than recognize the vaccine for what it is – an effective and safe means of minimizing transmission and illness."

"It is the Court's belief that the vast majority of the unvaccinated adults are uninformed and irrational, or – less charitably – selfish and unpatriotic," Scola wrote.

But while he did not believe excluding unvaccinated jurors in the midst of a pandemic was illegal, and the motorist did not object to doing so, Scola said he did not want to create an appellate issue and decided to delay the trial to May 9.

Neither Joseph Goldberg, a lawyer for Progressive at Cole, Scott & Kissane, nor Jorge Garcia, a lawyer for the motorist at Morgan & Morgan, responded to requests for comment on Wednesday.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, which Scola serves on, is one of the few federal courts nationally to adopt a vaccine policy, requiring employees to get vaccinated or tested twice weekly.

Members of the public are required to wear masks when in the courthouse. The court says it remains open and is "conducting necessary judicial business using technology as appropriate."

The case is Collazo v. Progressive Select Insurance Co, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida, No. 20-cv-25302.

For plaintiff Kevin Collazo: Jorge Garcia of Morgan & Morgan

For Progressive: Joseph Goldberg, Antwon Emery and Bryan Dyer of Cole, Scott & Kissane

Read more:

Federal, state courts increasingly cancel January trials citing Omicron

Northern California federal court suspends January jury trials, citing Omicron

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