Ensuring that our clients have the strategic advantage in any trial is the goal of our experienced eminent domain team. When COVID-19 restrictions put all trials on hold, our regional transit agency client was unable to move forward with several of their light rail expansion projects. Thankfully, as soon as civil trials were permitted by the Court to be tried, Matt Hansen and Tara O’Hanlon geared up for one of the first civil trials held in the nation since the lockdown. The transit agency needed to acquire easement rights to build its elevated light rail near SeaTac airport and the parties were unable to agree on the value for the property rights being acquired.
The multi-week trial was held as a hybrid in-person and Zoom trial in August 2021. King County had rented space in the Meydenbauer Convention Center in Bellevue to allow for the judge, court staff, jury, parties, and lawyers to participate in-person following all required CDC and local safety measures, including social distancing. The jury voir dire process took place over Zoom, half of the witnesses testified over Zoom projected on a large screen in the rented ballroom, and an entirely new electronic exhibit system was used.
Our trial team knew that there were new dynamics and strategies required to ensure a smooth and effective trial taking place under unprecedented conditions. The team worked closely with our client and its expert witnesses to practice how to convey technical and detailed information to the jurors using relatively new technology and through masks and microphones. In fact, Matt and Tara researched and opted to wear clear plastic face masks in an effort to be heard and better understood by the jury. They provided the same style of mask to their in-person witness and the team practiced with the masks in advance of trial. At the conclusion of the trial the jury returned a favorable verdict in favor of our client. In post-verdict interviews, the jury explained that they believed our client’s witnesses and the overall case theory presented by our trial team. The jury also confirmed that the use of the clear masks helped them hear and understand Matt, Tara, and the in-person witness.
In the end, strong evidence, thoughtful preparation of witnesses over Zoom, command of new technology, and collaboration with the Court and opposing counsel resulted in success. Our client was very pleased with the result and the trial team’s command of the process in a novel environment. To learn more about this virtual trial and the 100% virtual jury trial that Matt and Tara tried just a few weeks later, follow this link to the Pendulum Land Podcast episode: Eminent Domain Jury Trials During the Pandemic.