The COVID-19 pandemic put many court proceedings in a long recess during 2020. However, some cases are due to go to court in the coming year against some high-profile defendants, such as:
On his final day in office, former President Donald Trump granted pardons to 74 individuals, including former White House strategist Steve Bannon. However, it would be a mistake to think that Bannon is off the hook for charges of defrauding donors who contributed more than $25 million to his “We Build the Wall” campaign. Should Bannon accept Trump’s pardon, he will be thereby admitting his guilt, which is a direct contradiction to his early claims of innocence. While Bannon allegedly led investors to believe that all their donations would go to the construction of Trump’s infamous wall along the southern border of the U.S., court documents say he diverted over a million dollars from the project, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for his personal expenses. The New York federal fraud case is set to go to trial on May 24.
Ghislaine Maxwell, former girlfriend and quasi-employee of Jeffrey Epstein, faces criminal charges related to her alleged involvement with Epstein’s sex trafficking of minor girls. Proclaiming her innocence while in pretrial confinement, Maxell has attacked the Justice Department, the victims, their attorneys and the media. She has filed numerous motions seeking to dismiss the indictment against her that claims she groomed Epstein’s victims in the early 1990s and lied about it under oath. However, prosecutors have said they have evidence corroborating victims’ accounts of Maxwell’s participation in the abuse. Her trial is currently scheduled for July in Manhattan federal court.
The California federal fraud trial of ex-Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes was rescheduled from March 2021 to July 2021 due to COVID-19 related delays. Holmes (recognized in 2015 by Forbes as America’s richest self-made woman) and former Theranos president Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani face “massive fraud” charges related to claims they allegedly made about Theranos’s blood-testing technology. Potential witnesses include former U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis and past U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (both once served on Theranos’ board). Rupert Murdoch of News Corp. and The Wall Street Journal may also testify about how Theranos pressured the media to refrain from publishing negative news about the company.
2020 was a good year for Scott Peterson. Convicted in 2004 and sentenced to death in 2005 for the murder of his pregnant wife, Laci, Peterson received two favorable rulings from the California Supreme Court last year: A unanimous ruling that the judge who sentenced Peterson to death made errors when jurors personally opposed to the death penalty were excluded from the jury pool, and in response to Peterson’s habeas corpus petition, the high court directed the trial court to hold hearings regarding potential pretrial misconduct. On October 14, the California Supreme Court overturned Peterson’s death sentence and ordered that Peterson’s conviction be reexamined to determine whether he should receive a new trial. A case management conference is set for April 27, and if the habeas petition is granted, the entire case against Peterson could be retried.
Donald J. Trump
The U.S. Senate acquitted Donald Trump on Feb. 13 in his second impeachment trial. Still, now that he has left office, the former president may soon have to answer to sexual assault accusations. The lawyers representing E. Jean Carroll want to depose Trump in one of the two federal defamation lawsuits involving sexual misconduct allegations that the former Elle magazine columnist has filed against Trump. The lawyers are also seeking a DNA sample from Trump because Carroll says she still has the dress she was wearing while attacked. The former president has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than two dozen women but denies the allegations, has tried to have the cases dismissed, and calls the women liars, saying of Carroll: “She’s not my type.”
Delayed Justice Not an Option
Though many judges continue to deliberate about whether to hold in-person jury trials, federal courts have found that trials can be safely conducted with new protocols like reconfiguring courtrooms and jury deliberation areas to allow for social distancing, requiring masks and constant cleaning of furniture and surfaces. “There is no pandemic exception in the Constitution,” Eastern District of North Carolina Judge James C. Dever III said last fall. “And the Constitution has stood the test of time for more than 230 years.”