Are Civil Jury Trials Going Forward in the Bay Area?
March 1, 2021
We recently attended several virtual conferences put on by Association of Defense Counsel of Northern California and Nevada with judges from various counties in the San Francisco Bay Area regarding the status of jury trials in those counties. Below is a summary of the most current information from most of the Bay Area counties.
Alameda County – Judge Noel Wise
Alameda is setting and holding both civil and criminal jury trials. Criminal trials are given priority and are being done live due to the constitutional rights of criminal defendants, but it appears that all civil matters are proceeding remotely. Judge Wise stated that most California counties, including Alameda County, feel justified in ordering entirely remote trials – even over the objections of the parties – for civil matters.
Judge Wise stated that Alameda is still working out all the issues with remote trials including but certainly not limited to jury selection and evidentiary issues. Alameda seems to be calling in groups of jurors for in-person voir dire and the selection process takes place with remote attorneys. However, despite the issues presented by remote trials, Alameda seems to be proceeding with entirely remote trials.
Alameda now requires a formal motion and accompanying memorandum laying out all the foundation of good cause to continue trials. This is presumably to discourage these motions and encourage the parties to settle the cases rather than proceeding with a trial that is set on a shortened timeline.
Contra Costa County – Judge Barry Baskin
Contra Costa County is not currently holding civil jury trials. Judge Baskin stated that criminal trials were and likely will be going forward soon in person. It is currently unclear when civil jury trials will restart.
Solano County – Judge Wendy Getty
Solano County is not currently holding civil jury trials. However, Judge Getty stated that criminal trials are likely to be going forward soon in person. Civil trials will likely be proceeding mostly through Zoom video conferences but Judge Getty stated that Solano County will likely proceed with a hybrid model to help alleviate some of the issues with video trials.
San Francisco County – Judge Samuel K. Feng
Judge Fong stated that San Francisco is setting and holding both civil and criminal trials. However, Judge Fong stated that while San Francisco is open, they are operating with a “skeleton” crew, which has limited some of the capabilities of this court. In addition to the social distancing and mask requirements are in place for trials.
San Francisco is experimenting with proceeding with a type of hybrid remote and in-person style as contemplated. Jury selection seems to be being done by email and digital surveys.
San Francisco is continuing to be stringent with requests for trial continuances. San Francisco is requiring a formal motion and accompanying memorandum laying out all the foundation of good cause to continue trials.
San Mateo – Judge V. Raymond Swope
San Mateo is not currently going forward with any jury trials but Judge Swope stated that some selected bench trials are proceeding. These bench trials are proceeding as hybrid in-person and remote; however, they are only going forward 3 days a week to accommodate law and motion calendars.
As of January 4, 2020, all cases have been transferred to civil direct calendar and there are 5 judges who are handling their own trial calendars and law and motion.
San Mateo has remained liberal with requests for trial continuances. San Mateo is flexible for continuances generally and stipulations often sufficient to continue trial.
Santa Clara County – Judge Theodore Zayner
Santa Clara is opened up for jury trials on February 1, 2021 and all parties are actively encouraged to use remote technology for all stages of these proceedings. Jury selection is taking place in the courthouses and have protocols and procedures for safety in place including social distancing and a “Virtual Gallery” where the jurors can observe questioning from a large, socially distanced conference room without potential transmission. Santa Clara is also calling all jurors in staggered groups which they state takes significantly longer than it normally does.
Santa Clara is also attempting to avoid some of these trials by embarking on robust mandatory settlement conference schedule. Judge Zayner stated that this conference will take place at least 5 days prior to trial and all parties should expect significant pressure to settle their cases without taxation on the court’s limited resources and significant backlog.
As with Alameda and San Francisco, Santa Clara is conservative with requests for continuances. Santa Clara is also requiring a formal motion and accompanying memorandum laying out all the foundation of good cause to continue trials.
Alexander Promm is an Associate in Ericksen Arbuthnot’s Oakland/East Bay office, a member of the Firm’s Real Estate and Employment Law Practice Groups. Mr. Promm can be reached at (510) 832-7770 or firstname.lastname@example.org.