An Augusta lawyer will wear a mask during a jury trial this week after the Maine Supreme Judicial Court refused to delay it and consider whether having the criminal defense attorney wear a mask would prejudice jurors.
Darrick X. Banda claims that forcing him to wear a mask during his client’s jury trial because he has not been vaccinated for COVID-19 is the equivalent of making him wear “a scarlet letter” or “a dunce cap” in court. The trial is set to begin Monday at the Capital Judicial Center.
The court system requires that people who have not been vaccinated wear masks inside all of Maine’s courthouses. The rule was issued on July 1 and went into effect on July 5.
Banda said last week that the timing of the order did not allow him to get vaccinated before the trial began.
Superior Court Justice William Stokes told Banda that the rules did not give a judge the ability to grant an exception, even after the lawyer proved he’d recently tested negative for COVID-19.
Maine’s high court rarely considers appeals in criminal or civil cases until after a final judgment has been issued and they have been closed. The court found late Friday that Banda had not shown that “substantial rights [of his client] will be irreparably lost if he is required to wait until after the final judgment in this matter for a review of his claims of error.”
Banda’s client, Jared Jandreau, 36, of China, is charged with 18 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, five counts of unlawful sexual contact and one count of solicitation for gross sexual assault with a victim under 14, according to the Maine Attorney General’s office, which is prosecuting the case. The sexual abuse allegedly took place in August 2017 when the victim was 12, according to previously published reports.
Jandreau’s codefendant, Jessica Cox, 32, of Augusta, was sentenced last month to 10 years in prison, with five suspended, and six years of probation after pleading guilty to similar charges.
Banda is the third criminal defense lawyer to raise the issue of mandatory mask wearing before juries and at sentencings.
In April, Maine’s high court upheld the constitutionality of the pandemic restrictions in courthouses around the state in an appeal from convicted killer Noah Gaston, 39, of Windham. Gaston’s attorneys argued that he was entitled to a new trial, in part, because his family was not allowed to be in the same courtroom with him at his sentencing due to COVID-19 restrictions. Those rules included mandatory mask wearing, social distancing, entry screening questions about exposure to the coronavirus and restrictions on who may be in the courtroom and who may view proceedings remotely.
Augusta lawyer Stephen Smith last year raised the issue before the murder trial of Carine Reeves began. Smith claimed it was prejudicial to make his client, a Black man, wear a mask before an all-white jury. The trial judge disagreed and ordered everyone in the courtroom, including Reeves, to wear masks. An appeal on that issue is pending before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
Reeves, 41, of New York City, was sentenced earlier this year to 48 years in prison for the murder of Sally Shaw, 55, of New Gloucester, in July 2017 in Cherryfield.