Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, many United States courts began to open their doors in the final months of 2020 for in-person proceedings, including jury trials. Lewis Brisbois' attorneys were at the forefront of these trials, the first to occur since the pandemic began, and also advised courts directly on establishing and implementing reopening procedures. With one of the strongest trial benches in the nation, including 51 attorneys who are members of the prestigious American Board of Trial Advocates, Lewis Brisbois has demonstrated how to master the unique circumstances that have surrounded federal and state courts over the last several months. Accordingly, as developments related to the pandemic continue to occur and courts correspondingly adjust their procedures, Lewis Brisbois remains well-positioned and prepared to secure successful outcomes on behalf of its clients and their businesses.
Securing Trial Victories During a Pandemic
Throughout the pandemic, Lewis Brisbois' trial attorneys never stopped moving their clients' cases forward and preparing them for trial. As such, upon the reopening of courts in various jurisdictions, these attorneys stood ready to represent their clients zealously and successfully in a range of matters. The victories that Lewis Brisbois obtained in four trials illustrate the extraordinary abilities of its National Trial Practice attorneys, even in the face of COVID-19-related restrictions and other challenges associated with trying cases in the current environment.
A. First, New York Trial Partner James T. Whalen, Jr. obtained a very favorable verdict against a $10 million demand in the first jury trial to take place in the Supreme Court of New York, Richmond County. During the proceedings, all lawyers and witnesses wore masks, and the members of the jury sat in an uncustomary manner, namely, spaced out throughout the courtroom. Although the courtroom conditions were highly unusual, Mr. Whalen and his team remained focused on obtaining a successful result, which they did. The key to the verdict was Mr. Whalen's effective cross-examination of the plaintiff's experts along with his extensive preparation of the defense experts, who testified with credibility and precision.
B. In addition, San Bernardino Partners Rima Badawiya and Mark Schadrack secured a victory in the Los Angeles Superior Court in a challenging wrongful death elder abuse trial involving a multimillion-dollar demand, unfavorable evidence, and a trial that lasted several weeks. The evidence at trial established several failures on the part of the client facility, including failures to follow its own policies and procedures, obtain a timely physician consult, communicate with the decedent's family, and complete incident reports. Notwithstanding the challenges that the evidence presented, Ms. Badawiya and Mr. Schadrack successfully convinced the court that there was no justification for punitive damages, which led to a specific finding of no despicable conduct. The court ultimately awarded the plaintiff damages in an amount that was a fraction of the demand.
C. In another matter, Lewis Brisbois' cross-office team led by Seattle Partner Rachel Tallon Reynolds obtained a defense verdict after trying the breach of contract case inside Bellevue, Washington's Meydenbauer Center, an event space that King County Superior Court rented to serve as a temporary courthouse. All pre-trial motion hearings and jury selection, including voir dire, were conducted via Zoom. Once the trial began, assessing witness credibility was complicated by the court's requirement that the witnesses wear masks while testifying. Nevertheless, the Lewis Brisbois team methodically and persuasively tried the case, which involved a complicated transaction. After delivering a verdict in favor of Lewis Brisbois' client, members of the jury remarked that Lewis Brisbois' easy-to-follow presentation of evidence allowed them to understand the underlying transaction, which proved crucial during their deliberations.
D. In a fourth case, Portland Partner Jennifer K. Oetter secured a defense verdict in what has been reported as the first civil jury trial to take place in Oregon since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Trying this multimillion-dollar medical malpractice action in a high school auditorium in Medford, Oregon over the course of six trial days, Ms. Oetter navigated unique trial logistics to achieve a significant victory. For example, witnesses were not required to testify in person. Those who did sat in a witness box with a plexiglass partition. During the course of the trial, the judge, judicial assistants, and witnesses sat at separate tables on the stage, while the parties and their attorneys sat at tables below the stage. The jury members, who were required to wear masks at all times, sat throughout the auditorium. Court staff, attorneys and their staff, and witnesses wore masks except when speaking. Notwithstanding a sympathetic plaintiff and highly unusual circumstances, Ms. Oetter succeeded in helping the members of the jury to understand complex medical testimony, which ultimately led to a defense verdict.
Advising Courts on Re-Opening Procedures
In addition to securing victories in some of the first jury trials to take place since the pandemic began, Lewis Brisbois has also been working directly with courts to establish procedures during this unprecedented time. Specifically, New York Partner Alecia Walters-Hinds serves on the Commission to Reimagine the Future of New York's Courts. Appointed by Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals and the State of New York Janet DiFiore, Ms. Walters-Hinds and her colleagues on the Commission provided recommendations for the resumption of in-person operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Ms. Walters-Hinds also assisted with establishing New York's in-person jury trial pilot program, which has been instrumental in allowing New York courts to get back up and running since closing last spring.
In speaking about her experience on the Commission, Ms. Walters-Hinds shared, "I am honored to be on this Commission because it is important that Lewis Brisbois remains part of the planning for the future of the courts. In addition, serving in this position will also allow us to keep our clients updated on the ever-changing status of courts in a post-COVID world."
After several months of offering its clients strong and steady representation during otherwise unpredictable times, Lewis Brisbois' attorneys re-entered courtrooms across the country with extraordinary focus and resolve, winning three of the first jury trials to occur since the pandemic began. Lewis Brisbois' attorneys, who continue to be well-positioned to navigate jury trials under the most unique and challenging circumstances, have helped set the standard for how to succeed in the current unpredictable climate. Their unwavering dedication to clients has never been more apparent than it has against the backdrop of a global pandemic. Relying upon well-established trial prowess and deep experience, Lewis Brisbois' attorneys stand ready to help clients navigate the ever-evolving legal environment to achieve outstanding results for their businesses.