Coronavirus outbreak could ‘backlog’ Lori Loughlin case, delaying trial, says legal expert
Lori Loughlin could score her first victory of sorts in her upcoming trial for her involvement in the college admissions scandal -- without setting foot in a courtroom -- due to the developments surrounding the coronavirus (COVID-19).
Amid the worldwide pandemic, millions are exercising “social distancing” and many entities have enacted mandatory postponements and cancellations of events where large quantities of people congregate. However, at the present moment, our nation’s courts are moving at their own pace as daily operations continue and some jurisdictions ratify their own safeguards in an effort to mitigate the spread of the illness.
“Coronavirus has thrown our judicial system for a loop. Court clerks, lawyers and jurors are freaking out yet no one seems to have the power to order and manage a closure,” Harry Nelson, managing partner of Los Angeles-based healthcare law firm Nelson Hardiman, told Fox News on Friday.
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The co-author of “From ObamaCare to TrumpCare: Why You Should Care” said courts throughout the country “should have been closed a few days ago” and, that with so many moving pieces in the bureaucratic chain of command, there is no designated decision-maker to levy the verdict of closing the courts.
“Shutting down the courts is complicated because the courts are so decentralized,” he explained. “Each judge is typically sovereign [in] his or her own courtroom, with limited oversight. So there’s no one with their finger on the trigger to make a quick decision.”
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Nelson said many folks involved in regular court proceedings, regardless of the type of manner, see themselves as “sitting ducks” who potentially are risking exposure to the virus due to the non-closure of our offices and courthouses.
“We are moving into uncharted territory with COVID-19,” he said. “From high-profile cases like Lori Loughlin’s to the everyday criminal, civil, family court matters, this is a new world. Lawyers, court clerks, jurors see themselves as sitting ducks until we close down the courts.”
Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, are set to go to trial in October 2020 for their alleged roles in the nationwide admissions scheme, despite the fact their defense attorneys urged the judge to delay the setting of the trial dates in light of new evidence they received from prosecutors this month.
Nelson predicts that a court closure could prove detrimental for everyone involved, but for the “Fuller House” alum, a potential delay in the trial could work in her favor.
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“The backlash from closing the courts is going to be terrible,” he said. “People may take liberties because they can’t be held accountable by the other side racing into court. There is going to backlog for a long time to come.”
“COVID-19 is wreaking havoc on our judicial system,” added Nelson.
Loughlin’s attorneys maintain that the newfound evidence bolsters the couple's claim that they believed their payments to William “Rick” Singer -- around $500,000 for their daughters’ admittances into the University of Southern California -- were legitimate donations and not bribes.
However, the judge said the cases need to be resolved expeditiously and instructed defense attorneys to file any motions to dismiss the case by Friday, March 13.
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Sean Berkowtiz, a lawyer for the couple, said in a court filing last month that prosecutors’ explanation for not handing over the evidence sooner is “bogus.” He accused the government of “egregious prosecutorial misconduct.”
"The fact that someone made a donation to USC with the goal of getting their children into USC is not a crime," BJ Trach, another attorney for Loughlin, told the judge.
Meanwhile, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Rosen told the judge that it doesn't matter whether Singer called the payments bribes or donations, because it was still an illegal quid pro quo.
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“Just because it was called a donation doesn’t make it legitimate,” Rosen said.
The pair's trial is scheduled to start on Oct.5 in Boston federal court alongside six other prominent parents accused of rigging the college admissions process.
Additionally, seven others still fighting the charges will go to trial in January 2021, U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton said last month.
Fox News’ Tyler McCarthy contributed to this report.