• Judge Michael Donio

Ask the Judge: Jurors not being present during case?



What is your feeling on jurors not being present in the same room as the case is being presented as shown on some TV shows due to the pandemic?


I am not a fan of a remote jury trial. There are too many variables that could lead to an unjust verdict. For instance, if the jurors are all remote and they are getting a feed showing testimony from a court room, I have some concerns about the integrity of the jury panel. Who is in the room with the jurors and listening? Who can hear the testimony from the same household? How do you assess the credibility of not only the person testifying but the parties to the case, and even their lawyers with just one live feed? These are all things that go on in a courtroom that contributes to a fair and impartial verdict. If you are only able to see on a screenshot of perhaps the witness testifying and not being able to look at the facial expressions and demeanor of the other parties to the action or their lawyers, I think you are missing out on important elements that go into every case. Therefore, while the court system is overburdened at this time, one way of handling this is to agree to a bench trial in front of the judge only. A bench trial can proceed a lot smoother and quicker than a jury trial. A lot of civil litigants may opt for a bench trial, but most criminal defendants will not. I believe in all my time on the criminal bench I may have only tried three or four cases that were bench trials where I made the decision of guilt or innocence. Most defendants would rather take their chance with a jury. Finally, because of this situation we find ourselves in, things like binding arbitrations and mediations while popular before, have become even more popular during this pandemic. It is a relatively inexpensive and quick way to get a settlement in your case, especially now without waiting two to four years for your case to come up in court.


My uncle contracted COVID-19 at a family gathering at my daughter's house. Is there a liability issue?


You really do not know. How many people were at the party? How many of them did not wear a mask? How many of them did not stay six feet or more away from your uncle? These are all of the issues that have to be taken into account and proven in a court of law. It is basically impossible. How are you going to prove that is where your uncle contracted COVID-19 and by whom he contracted it? With all of the issues that we have going on with COVID-19 and everything else and with the backlog with the court system, I do not suggest this is the kind of case that you want to file in the court system because of the lack of sufficient proof, the time, the expense and the current state of our court system.


Judge Michael Donio served as a New Jersey State Superior Court Judge for 20 years before retiring on July 31, 2015. He now operates a legal consulting and mediation firm on the White Horse Pike. Donio can be reached by calling (609) 481-2919. Send your questions for his columns to askthejudge@hammontongazette.com.