On May 26, 2021, Bennett & Belfort, P.C. attorneys Todd J. Bennett and Craig D. Levey completed a five-day jury trial in Middlesex Superior Court, where B&B’s clients prevailed on all counts for disability discrimination (failure to accommodate and termination) and retaliation. Due to the pandemic, this trial involved a number of measures put into place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The trial was a fascinating experience for the seasoned trial attorneys, as it was their first time before a live jury since the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020. Attorneys Bennett and Levey commend the staff at Middlesex Superior Court for a smooth process, as all parties sought to navigate the new rules and requirements regarding jury selection and courtroom etiquette.
While jury selection typically occurs in the courtroom where the case is tried, this was not true here. Potential jurors were spread out over two large rooms on separate floors. The judge conducted venire via video as bailiffs in the two rooms listened and took note of juror responses. Next, the judge and attorneys moved back to the courtroom and, one-by-one, jurors came into the courtroom and were asked more specific questions by the judge and attorneys. The process of jury selection took longer than usual given the various rooms involved.
Once the trial started, all parties—with the exception of the witness on the stand—were required to wear face masks at all times. The witness box was surrounded by clear plexiglass, which allowed the parties and jurors to see the witnesses’ expressions and better assess their credibility as they testified. The courtroom staff sanitized the witness box in between witnesses to ensure all cleaning requirements were met.
Since the jury was wearing face masks, the attorneys could not gauge the jurors’ immediate responses on any piece of evidence. Typically, an attorney may see a juror’s facial expression—good, bad, or indifferent—which provides critical feedback on a particular fact. This was not an option here. Additionally, since the attorneys wore face masks during opening statements, direct and cross examinations, and closing arguments, the jurors and witnesses could not see the attorneys’ expressions, which resulted in less emphasis on “entertainment value” and more on the evidence.
The new courtroom requirements mandated that the attorneys be more prepared than usual for witness examinations. Attorneys were not permitted to leave the podium while questioning a witness, and therefore could not approach the witness with exhibits. Attorneys were required to leave all documents (deposition transcripts, etc.), whether for impeachment or otherwise, in the jury box before the start of questioning to ensure no germs were spread. This required an extra level of preparation by the attorneys.
Congratulations to Attorneys Bennett and Levey on a successful trial!