August 19, 2020

First asbestos trials on Zoom marred by distracted jurors and technical problems

Jurors were working on other things, joking with plaintiffs and possibly even napping during the first asbestos trials held in a virtual format due to the coronavirus pandemic, leading the defense to ask for a mistrial, according to a report in Legal Newsline.

Two ongoing trials in California’s Alameda County have defendants objecting to being forced to participate on Zoom, where they say jurors clearly have their attention split with other things as they are asked to weigh the complex issues presented in asbestos trials. Because the trial is not being recorded there is some dispute as to what went on when jurors and the plaintiff were left alone in the virtual meeting.

According to a member of the defense who stayed in the main trial chatroom, someone asked a juror if he was in a real courtroom. That juror had set up a courtroom as his Zoom virtual background, then scrolled through space and Golden Gate Bridge backgrounds as other jurors “were smiling and sounds of ‘oooh’ and ‘ahhh’ could be heard,” the motion for mistrial says.

The defense has also asked that future proceedings be recorded so there can be no dispute over what happens during the rest of the trial, if it proceeds.

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