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Silverman: The coronavirus has closed courts, but it will keep Colorado attorneys busy

The legal world has been rocked by this pandemic. Attorneys thrive on action. Human commerce.  

Traffic wrecks and crime have blessedly plummeted. But many new legal matters have emerged. So long as people disagree, lawyers have work. However, Colorado trial courts are essentially closed.  

No one knows when our courts will fully reopen. Colorado has stopped jury trials at least through May. Criminal defendants have constitutional rights to speedy trials. If violated, dismissal is demanded. Colorado will have many speedy trial violations.

Craig Silverman

How can we ever have jury trials during this pandemic? Court elevators and security lines get exceptionally crowded. Most courtrooms lack space to accommodate socially distanced jury trials. The Constitution also mandates room for public and press.  

What happens if a trial participant tests positive for COVID-19? Mistrial? Mandatory quarantines? 

Can witnesses wear masks during trials? Facial expressions must be studied by jurors evaluating credibility. The same is true for prospective jurors put under oath during Voir Dire.

How can we approach the bench and whisper outside juries’ hearing anymore? Can exhibits ever again be passed around between witness, lawyers, judge and jury? Our Constitution will be tested.

Civil litigants are also entitled to juries and public trials. Civil court trials on Zoom have begun. SNL just featured a Law and Order murder case on Zoom

The U.S. Supreme Court, long technology resistant, must adapt. Oral arguments in Colorado’s faithless elector case (Baca) will be conducted via video. The public will only get audio, but at least it’s live, a first for our highest court. We should also be allowed to watch.

What legal consequences should be faced by those responsible for spreading COVID-19? China’s being sued by governments and private persons. So’s the World Health Organization. Even if COVID-19 was born of negligence, the cover-up was deliberate as hell. Regardless, don’t expect Chinese leader Xi Jinping to experience criminal justice.

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Other humans will surely suffer pandemic-related criminal convictions. Is a handshake now an assault? Can criminal charges be pressed if a person presses into a crowded elevator? Are coughs now criminal? Colorado prosecutors have already made charging decisions on suspected COVID-19 spreaders and scofflaws. 

An Eagle County man purportedly coughed on purpose on someone’s food purchase. He next disrespected social distance and announced he’s not buying COVID-19 media hype. Nathan Herries faces criminal charges of violating a public health order, disorderly conduct and second-degree tampering.

According to Arvada police, Brenda Johnson, while being arrested for DUI, spit on a cop and proclaimed, “There’s some corona for you, now all you need is a lime.” The outcome of her Jefferson County prosecution will be instructive.

Colorado again made national news when Steamboat Springs police arrested three Front Range men for visiting a buddy. Others at the Steamboat friend’s house complained. Police Chief Cory Christensen said voluntary compliance with Colorado’s stay-at-home order was sought, but not achieved. Three arrests followed, for violating a public health order and obstructing police.

On Fox News and elsewhere, mega-MAGA broadcasters have encouraged crowded protests at state capitols — especially following the “liberation” tweets of President Trump. Prior to that, POTUS and his broadcast loyalists downplayed and deceived regarding COVID-19’s danger. Now, Fox News is getting sued for misinformation. The First Amendment should shield Fox.

Other companies should worry more. Every business in which COVID-19 has demonstrably spread has personal injury and wrongful death liability concerns. Lawsuits are already filed against giant entities such as cruise lines, meat processing plants and multiple-infection Walmarts.

Civil litigation’s also underway regarding proper refunds of money spent on events made impossible by the pandemic. Ski companies are getting sued for keeping cash from unusable ski passes. 

Substantial refund money’s also at issue for airlines, concert production companies, fitness centers and Colorado universities. Sports teams must decide what happens with already-paid season ticket money. 

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

In every disaster, some lowlifes try to take advantage. Coronavirus-related price-gouging lawsuits against Amazon and N95 mask manufacturers are ongoing. PPE hoarders are being prosecuted. Colorado lacks hoarding or price-gouging statutes, but AG Phil Weiser says he’ll find other statutes to punish coronavirus-related consumer abusers.

Contemptible are those seeking profit by selling fake coronavirus cures. Repellant radio demagogue Alex Jones got sued for selling COVID-19 killing Superblue toothpaste. Disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker’s been sued for peddling anti-virus medications in his $80 bottle of Silver Solution

Desperate people are easy prey for despicable predators willing to swindle.  Healthy Arizonans  Gary and Wanda Lenius drank chloroquine phosphate after hearing Donald Trump tout hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 prophylactic. Wanda got sick. Gary died. The demerits of this president’s prescriptions have become increasingly evident.  

Late last week, Trump switched to over the counter and under-the-sink home remedies. POTUS touted his novel idea to beat back coronavirus. Ingest disinfectants and internalize UV light, suggested America’s leader. Ridicule and more poisoning concerns followed. 

I said it sarcastically,” Trump claimed the next morning, asking us to disbelieve our own eyes and ears. More ridicule followed. POTUS fled his own next presser. This disease has many victims.

COVID-19 is catastrophic. Courts of law will long be confronting its existence and aftermath.   


Craig Silverman is a former Denver chief deputy DA who also has worked in the media for decades. Craig is columnist at large for The Colorado Sun. He practices law at the Denver law firm of Springer & Steinberg, P.C.


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