Earlier this week in California, a mistrial was denied in a virtual jury trial when jurors were communicating with the Plaintiff through the Zoom “chat” feature. This was a mesothelioma case involving claims for personal injuries against two companies who allegedly caused Plaintiff’s mesothelioma while he was working on Navy ships. During trial, when the Judge and attorneys were speaking privately in a Zoom “breakout room,” two jurors communicated with the Plaintiff in the Zoom chat and discussed the use of Zoom’s “virtual backgrounds.” The jurors and the Plaintiff did not discuss the case.
Although the Judge ruled the behavior was inappropriate, he ultimately denied the motion for mistrial stating, “[t]he conduct did not relate to the trial. It was a brief interaction. Nothing in the communications was inherently prejudicial . . . All jurors stated they were not influenced by the incident.” Since this incident, the Court modified its virtual jury trial procedures and now all jurors, witnesses, and parties are kept in a “waiting room” when the Judge is not present.
Thus, while technology is creating new and novel opportunities to advance cases during this coronavirus pandemic, it is also producing additional obstacles we have never had to face before. As we all navigate this “new normal” together it is important we learn from these hurdles, implement necessary changes, and continue to think of creative ways to resolve our cases.