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By: Daniel Baylson
The New Jersey court system has finally rolled out its plan for virtual civil jury trials during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. On January 7, 2021, the NJ Supreme Court authorized a two-phase approach to implementing virtual civil jury trials. The Court’s approved plan for virtual civil jury trials incorporates suggestions from various stakeholder organizations, including the New Jersey State Bar Association, New Jersey Association for Justice, New Jersey Defense Association, Trial Attorneys of New Jersey, County Bar Associations, and many individual attorneys.
The Court’s January 7, 2021 Notice to the Bar and Court Order states that the process for virtual civil jury trials will be implemented in two phases. During Phase 1, civil cases will be noticed and scheduled for virtual jury trials to start on or after February 1, 2021. Only the following vicinages will conduct virtual civil jury trials during Phase 1: Atlantic/Cape May; Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem; Monmouth; Passaic; and Union. Consent to proceed remotely will be required during Phase 1. Consent to proceed in a virtual format may be withdrawn no later than the tenth day before jury selection in a given matter. As of April 5, 2021, Phase 2 will go into effect, and virtual civil jury trials will expand to all counties. In Phase 2, consent will not be required for a civil jury trial to proceed in a virtual format. Phase 2 will continue until further order but only as long as necessary based on the COVID-19 pandemic.
In both phases, all civil case types (all dockets and all tracks) will be eligible for virtual civil jury trials. Further, virtual civil jury trials in each county, to the extent possible, will begin with cases involving a single plaintiff, a single defendant, a limited number of issues in dispute, and a modest number of live witnesses. Cases that are especially complex (including but not limited to professional malpractice cases), or anticipated to require more than a few weeks to complete, should be scheduled only after one or more straightforward trials have been conducted in the county. The trial judge will conduct a comprehensive pretrial conference that covers all aspects of the virtual trial process. Jury selection will be conducted in an entirely virtual format. During Phase 1 and Phase 2, relevant factors (including health-related or unavoidable travel-related barriers to attorneys convening in the courtroom) will be considered in scheduling cases for trial dates.
For further information, the Court’s January 7, 2021 Notice to the Bar and Court Order is here: https://njcourts.gov/notices/2021/n210107a.pdf?c=r2o
If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Daniel Baylson at [email protected].