Will Federal Judges Order You to Take Off Your Mask – The Central District Grapples with New Changes

The Central District of California is one of the biggest locations for intellectual property disputes in the country. However, it is also one of the busiest federal criminal courts at the same time. Under the U.S. Constitution, defendants have a right to “confront” witnesses against them — this means to see them in the eyes and cross examine their truthfulness. It is one of the oldest rights in our Constitution and in our justice system developed over centuries.

Changes in court procedure have been blisteringly fast over the past two months. Today Chief Judge Cormac Carney and Judge Michael Fitzgerald gave an informal webinar updating the federal bar. The presenters noted almost casually that there is a dispute among the judges as to who should wear masks when the court reopens for jury trials.

Apparently, some federal judges now believe that masks are inappropriate in connection with constitutional rights. Other judges believe the exact opposition — societal duties of safety are owed to all citizens. Many judges will be provided with plexiglass barriers for jurors or court staff — these things remain in flux. Federal judges will eventually be facing these issues and grappling with them in the same way as businesses, schools and institutions. However, they will be deciding them eventually in terms of the freedom of defendants and parties to lawsuits, in addition to their own personal safety.

The court has set up phases for re-entry into normalcy. Each federal court may have separate rules. Judge Carney noted that this will all take time. Phase II starts on June 22, 2020, but the timelines for Phases III (jury trials) and Phase IV (regular operation) are not even on the horizon.

Attached are the Shining Law Firm’s quick notes on this casual presentation. These changes — some big, some tiny – will have ripple effects on our society as we go forward.