Attorneys and a judge agreed that an intensive, weeks-long trial could pose a risk to public health.
Charlottesville counter-protesters will have to wait longer to argue their case in court.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that the case, Sines v. Kessler, was initially scheduled to begin trial at the end of October. Expected to last three weeks, the lawsuit centers on violence which erupted during the 2017 Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“Our plaintiffs are a coalition of Charlottesville community members, many of whom were students and other young activists in the Charlottesville area, who were injured during the violence three years ago,” said Amy Spitalnick, executive director of Integrity First for America.
During the Unite the Right Rally, numerous violent encounters erupted between alt-right protesters and counter-demonstrators.
The rally attracted national attention when James Alex Fields Jr., a Unite the Right supporter, accelerated his 2010 Dodge Challenger into a group of counter-protesters.
Counter-protesters at Unite the Right in 2017. Image via Wikimedia Commons via Flickr/user:Anthony Crider. (CCA-BY-2.0),
Fields’s killed a local woman and left over a dozen people injured.
Victims of Charlottesville violence sued the rally’s organizers in 2017, with the first amended complaint submitted in early 2018. It has taken years for the case to approach trial.
However, attorneys for the plaintiffs have requested additional hearings to discuss logistical concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic—concerns which are expected to push back the trial date well past October.
“As we continue to monitor the developments regarding COVID-19 both in Virginia and across the country, we have become increasingly concerned that conducting a comprehensive and constitutionally adequate jury selection process in approximately two months from now—not to mention a jury trial itself involving this many parties, litigants, and witnesses—may ultimately prove untenable and potentially dangerous from a public health perspective,” plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote in a letter to the court.
The Times-Dispatch notes that the court in which the case is expected to be heard—the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia—has repeatedly reconsidered and altered its approach to jury trials, regularly rescheduling trial dates.
In a late August order, U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon said he would delay Sines v. Kessler because of its potential to jeopardize public health.
However, Moon also stressed the importance of continuity, writing that the trial—even if postponed—will not be shelved indefinitely.
“There are nine plaintiffs, and twenty individual and organizational defendants,” Moon wrote. “Considering the health risks posed by COVID-19 in this District and Virginia, and considering the nature of this case and the projected extensive breadth and scope of this trial, the Court finds good cause to continue the trial.”
The Times-Dispatch writes that a telephonic conference will be held on Monday, September 14th, to evaluate the trial’s logistics, potential public health contingencies, and an alternative start date.
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