Published on: Thursday, January 6, 2022

As the omicron variant of COVID-19 continues to spread across the U.S., more federal courts are restricting building access and pushing back trials.     

On Monday, the U.S. reported more than 1 million new coronavirus cases, as public health officials urge individuals to get vaccinated and booster shots. While courts respond to the spike, some law firms have delayed return-to-office dates.

The chief judge of the federal court for the Eastern District of Arkansas has issued an order requiring civil and criminal hearings that cannot be held by telephonic or video conference to be postponed unless the presiding judge determines that the interests of justice require an in-person hearing. "The omicron variant’s extraordinary transmission rate presents challenges for holding trials in January, especially jury trials," the court wrote.

Federal courts in New Jersey have suspended all in-person hearings until at least the end of the month, as the state has seen record-high number of coronavirus cases recently. U.S. Chief Judge Freda L. Wolfson signed a court order last week suspending all in-person federal judicial proceedings in the state for both civil and criminal cases through Jan. 31.

The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California has suspended jury trials through at least Jan. 24 due to a surge of COVID-19 cases.  “Given the increased rate of transmission of COVID-19 in the Central District of California due to the Omicron variant, conducting jury trials would place court personnel, attorneys, parties, and prospective jurors at undue risk,” the court wrote.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California announced suspension of all criminal and civil jury trials in the district until after Jan. 26 on the court's website Wednesday, citing "the rapid spread of the omicron variant" of the coronavirus.

Connecticut's federal district court said it would delay any trials set to begin before Feb. 1.

Federal district courts in Washington, D.C., and New Jersey last week similarly suspended trials for much or all of January, while Maryland's did so earlier last month.

The Southern District of New York recently began requiring people to wear N95 or KN95 masks and has adopted other safety protocols, such as increasing the size of jury boxes and having witnesses testify from plexiglass booths.