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Jacksonville stripper lawsuit to be first ‘virtual’ trial in US, held entirely on Zoom

An injury lawsuit filed by a dancer at a Jacksonville gentlemen’s club will be the first all-Zoom trial, from jury selection to verdict.
Duval County Courthouse

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — An entirely virtual civil trial begins this week in Duval County, in which every aspect of the case -- from jury selection to verdict -- will take place remotely over Zoom.

It will be the first fully virtually held trial in Florida, court officials say, and the first trial in the country with a binding verdict. The move to virtual proceedings has been necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic, which created a backlog of cases in the court system.

Duval County was selected for the pilot project by the Florida Supreme Court and has been prepping for weeks, holding mock trials and making sure potential jurors either have the necessary equipment to access Zoom or can access a private computer room at one of four local libraries. The only person physically in the courtroom will be Circuit Judge Bruce Anderson.

The inaugural case is a civil trail, an injury liability lawsuit in which Cayla Griffin, a former dancer at the former Paradise Gentleman’s Club claims she was beaten and severely injured by two bouncers, suffering facial fractures and broken teeth.

Jury selection will happen in groups of 15, with six jurors and two alternates chosen to serve. Both sides had to sign a consent form agreeing to the remote format.

If the trial is successful, it will be a model for other civil trails. Court officials do not yet have plans to conduct any criminal trials remotely, however, saying any plans for that would "be down the road."

While this will be the first full trial held virtually, there have been partial efforts elsewhere. A South Florida court conducted jury selection remotely, though jurors showed up and socially distanced for the trial. A Texas court held a one-day summary trial remotely, but the verdict was non-binding.

In a statement, Judge Anderson thanked the Clerk’s Office and the Jacksonville legal community. 

“Everyone involved has been working hard to develop the processes and procedures that will allow us to conduct a smooth and efficient remote jury trial,” he said. “I especially appreciate all of our volunteers who served as jurors and attorneys in mock trials to make sure everything was in place to hold this first fully remote civil jury trial.”

Duval Clerk of Courts Ronnie Fussell said, “I am proud of all of the efforts made to pull off this historic trial. With so many moving parts, collaboration between everyone involved is key and I am happy with the results of their efforts. I look forward to a successful remote jury trial.”

Jury selection begins Thursday and opening statements begin Monday. The trial will be available for public viewing at https://pages.cvn.com/duval-county-florida-remote-trial-program.