Crippled, Blinded and Broken | COVID-Caused Civil Trial Delays
- July 27, 2020 - Abused Beneficiaries,
An accused’s right to a speedy trial is one of our most basic Constitutional rights. It starts when a criminal prosecution begins. It serves both the interests of defendants and society alike.
There is no constitutional right to a speedy jury trial in civil proceedings. That said, as a former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice observed:
“The right to trial by jury in civil cases at common law is fundamental to our history and jurisprudence. A right so fundamental and sacred to the citizens should be jealously guarded.”
COVID-19 shutdowns have forced lawyers and their clients to confront the contradiction between protecting this fundamental right and its loss or severe limitation occasioned by widespread governmental orders. Orders that curtail and delay the ability to prosecute jury trials. And, push their occurrence into a distant and mostly undefined future.
We wonder whether the fear of COVID-19 infection swallowed this fundamental right. Some prefer not to acknowledge or address the issue. The concept of safety, for some, means that even asking the question is off-base. Many simply accept the restrictions without challenge or thought.
Plaintiffs, if not their lawyers, usually ask questions. What will this do to their case? When, if ever, will they get to trial? Should they try to settle? Will this be a sign of weakness? Isn’t all of this to the great advantage of those who have done wrong? Will wrongdoers face any justice if everything is long delayed?
Plaintiffs’ lawyers, like those at Hackard Law, have answers to these questions. We represent elders and their families damaged by financial elder abuse as well as abused trust beneficiaries and estate heirs in California’s civil courts. Without exception, these cases have been delayed, trials vacated, and settlement conferences cancelled.
Clients understandably ask us what can be done. We start with a review of state, judicial and local orders that affect the right to set a timely trial.
Stay-in-place and distancing rules are widespread. These orders make little or no allowance for “justice delayed – justice denied” arguments.
Reading or watching the news brings easy understanding that government leaders have taken to their newfound powers to substantially shut down the court system and release habitual criminals with $0 bails. Many law enforcement officials argue that these policies essentially allow many of those arrested for auto theft, assault with a deadly weapon, elder abuse, and child abuse to be released from California jails with a citation to appear.
There are growing arguments that governmental leaders have misused their powers. Governmental actions or inactions that allow criminals unrestrained license to commit “less serious crimes” seem akin to the suspension of civil liberties that protect law abiding citizens.
There will be long term consequences to all of this – some predictable, some not. We really don’t know what they will be. For now, it seems that our quest for civil justice is crippled, blinded and broken.
Things will get better, we hope. In the meantime, it’s worth contemplating how quickly a system based upon laws, not men, can degenerate in one or a series of crises.
As an aside, I wish that I could be talking about how well everything is working. How seniors’ rights are being protected. How justice will still be timely. I can’t.
We continue to represent clients in estate, trust and elder financial abuse litigation. We’ll continue to bring these cases to justice, however constrained.
If you’d like to speak with us about your case, call us at Hackard Law (916) 313-3030 or see our website at hackardlaw.com.
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