Judge Rules on Poultry Executive’s Motion Claiming COVID-19 Impacted Jury

A District of Colorado judge, Philip A. Brimmer, ruled on Friday to allow some discovery relating to how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted jury selection in a criminal lawsuit regarding broiler chicken antitrust activity but rejected many of the requests. The order will allow the defendant to have jury questionnaires for the grand jurors and demographic information for the potential jurors without identifying information. 

The judge noted that a litigant has the right to inspect jury lists, but limited the lists to those which would be related to the division used in his petit jury. The order denied the requested demographic information about all grand jurors and added date limitations to at least one of the requests. Judge Brimmer reported that Rickie Patterson Blake, who filed the motion, was added as a defendant on October 6, 2020, by a grand jury, which was selected in September 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic began. 

In the defendant’s motion, he claimed that he “has a unqualified statutory right to documents reflecting and related to the procedures by which his grand jury was selected,” and cited that the COVID-19 pandemic could cause jurors to be deferred or excused if they or those they live with are considered a higher risk for developing complications from COVID-19.  

Blake further noted that the trial could occur while the pandemic is continuing causing prospective jurors to seek additional deferments and causing a jury that may not comply with the requirement that it be a fair cross-section of the population, as some demographics, specifically racial minorities and older individuals, are more likely to ask to be excused. The motion argued that this could deprive the defendant of his right to a fair jury, which led him to seek the interrogatories. 

Blake, who is reportedly a director and manager at George’s Inc., is represented by Robbins, Russell, Englert, Orseck, Untereiner & Sauber LLP and RMP LLP. Other defendants, each associated with Pilgrim’s Pride, Tyson Foods, Perdue Farms, or another chicken processing company, have their own representation. The plaintiff, the United States, is represented by the Department of Justice. 

In addition to the individuals facing this criminal investigation, the companies purportedly involved in the chicken industry antitrust activity have received many civil lawsuits which are consolidated and being heard in the Northern District of Illinois