Recently, attorneys for President Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, informed the judge in Manafort’s pending D.C. trial that they would seek a change of venue, although they did not yet know where they wanted the trial to be held. Such changes are not often granted due to the competing interests at stake.
“Venue” is another term for a case’s location, which is usually the place where the issue arose. However, a party may file a motion for a change of venue if the location is inconvenient or the parties or subject matter involved in the case are so notorious that a fair trial in that location is impossible (as Manafort’s lawyers have suggested in his case). Balanced against those interests is the principle that a case should be heard in and by the community most affected by the controversy. The conflicts are readily apparent; in 2015, the Boston Marathon bombing suspect, Dzokhar Tsarnaev, sought to have his case removed from a Boston courtroom on the grounds that most potential jurors in the Boston area had already made up their minds that Tsarnaev was guilty. The community was interested in the outcome of the case, but that very interest, Tsarnaev’s lawyers claimed, made a fair trial impossible. (The court denied the change of venue.) Sometimes, claims that publicity has damaged a defendant’s chance for a fair trial have been successful; for example, the trial of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, accused of bombing the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City, was moved from Oklahoma to Colorado on those very grounds. The court ruled that the need for fairness outweighed the community’s interest in hearing the trial. Changes of venue remain relatively rare, although some courts have attempted to resolve the conflict in creative ways. In comedian Bill Cosby’s sexual assault trial, the judge ruled that venue would remain in Montgomery County, where the case was filed, but that jurors would be drawn from Allegheny County, on the other side of the state. It remains to be seen whether Manafort’s next trial will be moved or affected by the change of venue. It is also unclear whether a change of venue is always beneficial: McVeigh, Nichols and Cosby were all found guilty.
Kathleen Davies is a staff writer for GetLegal.com. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School and has practiced law and taught legal writing and advocacy.