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Green Sprouts

In the US District Court for the Western District of Texas, Judge Alan Albright's closely watched patent trial is underway. The US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia just issued a notice that criminal jury trials would resume March 1. In Long Island, jury selection has been set for the bellweather opioid trial brought by the New York Attorney General. Spring has sprung.

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In West Texas, the Jury Will Return

Returning once again to the stage of Judge Alan Albright's patent case in the US District Court for the Western District of Texas: In January, a second mandamus petition was unsuccessful in the US District Court for the Federal Circuit, notwithstanding its similarity to the first mandamus petition, which was successful. Thus, the stage was set for a patent trial in Waco, which will begin Monday. Yesterday, Judge Albright issued an order setting COVID-19 procedures for the trial. These include: Before voir dire, jurors will be given N95 masks and face shields, and they will be instructed to wear both throughout voir dire, except they may remove the masks when answering questions. Seven jurors will be selected. (This means they can only afford to lose one juror prior to the verdict.) During the trial, the jurors will be in the jury box, at least six feet apart. They have the option of wearing an N95 mask or a face shield. The parties will sit in the gallery and...

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Looks Like We Made It

The Trump administration departs. The Biden administration arrives. But for the courts, the inauguration is no magic shot in the arm (as they say). Appeals courts have been reluctant to second-guess trial courts' approaches to COVID-19, at least explicitly. But the Texas Supreme Court has taken a different approach this week. According to Texas Lawyer: [The Texas Supreme Court] has hit the brakes on an in-person jury trial in Houston this week, even though justices last year denied similar requests to continue trials as COVID-19 spread across the Lone Star State. Yet this time, as infection rates—reaching their highest point ever—have begun overrunning intensive care units in some Texas cities, the justices have issued an about-face by granting an emergency motion to stay.   New York litigators from Davis Polk & Wardell first asked for a trial continuance that was denied by Judge Mike Englehart. Next, they lost a bid from Houston's 14th Court of...

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Optimism in East Texas

We return now to Judge Amos Mazzant's federal courtroom in Sherman, Texas. COVID-19 caused a mistrial last year, when jurors, lawyers and court staff become infected mid-trial. We covered it, most recently, here. Judge Mazzant has reset the jury trial for March 8, 2021. The trial date will either represent a return to normalcy or misplaced optimism. Time will tell. If it occurs, the two-week trial will overlap with the anniversary of the national shutdown.

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The Jury Returns…Returns.

Happy New Year! 2021 begins as 2020 ended: mostly without jury trials. Some are determined to change that, however, which brings us to the latest in the saga of Judge Alan Albright's US District Court for the Western District of Texas case, which we covered immediately below (and elsewhere). When we left off, Judge Albright had retransferred the case for trial purposes from Austin to Waco so that he could hold a jury trial in January. The defendant had petitioned the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit for mandamus to stop the trial. We noted that “the panel could grant the petition without addressing whether trials should be held in the current environment.” And in fact, that is exactly what happened. On December 23, the Federal Circuit found that Judge Albright had incorrectly applied the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit standard for retransfer under 28 USC § 1404 and lacked the inherent authority to retransfer. But then, the Federal...

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The Latest on Judge Albright’s January Trial

Readers will recall our coverage of Judge Alan Albright’s re-transfer of an Austin patent case to Waco so that the court could hold a jury trial in January as scheduled. In that case, the defendant has sought mandamus from the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to stop the trial, but the petition is not expressly predicated on COVID-19 issues. Briefing is complete, and the panel will rule soon—but the panel could grant the petition without addressing whether trials should be held in the current environment. Meanwhile, in Judge Albright’s court, the parties continue to debate whether the trial should go forward. The transcript of last week’s motion hearing is a must-read. Introducing his argument, the defendant’s counsel told Judge Albright: “We take this step to avoid the potentially dire outcome for any particular person’s health or life.” This is not the type of remark we saw in patent cases before 2020. The transcript is...

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On Again, Off Again

Readers will remember our coverage of the November trial in Eastern District of Texas, Sherman Division, which ended in a mistrial after jurors, court staff, and lawyers on both sides contracted COVID-19. The trial judge, Amos Mazzant, had wanted to push forward, but the number of jurors eventually grew too small. On December 4, Judge Mazzant had a 6-minute teleconference to reschedule the trial. The plaintiffs were eager to proceed and suggested a March trial date. Defendant’s counsel had a conflict with the March date, however, so Judge Mazzant set the trial for January 25. The virus apparently has other ideas. According to Law360, Grayson County, Texas, where the court is located, reported 46 new cases on Saturday, with 432 active cases in the county of 136,000. Hospitals are at 92% occupancy with intensive care units at 100% occupancy. And so yesterday, in a one-sentence order without explanation, Judge Mazzant cancelled the January 25 trial, to be...

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In WDTex, the Fight Escalates

Last week we told you about Judge Alan Albright’s determination to keep trying patent cases. He had a trial scheduled for January in Austin, where he had transferred the case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404 while leaving himself as the assigned judge. Trials are not being held in the Austin courthouse, however, so he transferred the case back to Waco. Now the defendant has moved to postpone the trial until after March, attaching a declaration from the Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Baylor University Medical Center stating that the current state of the pandemic "poses a significant potential risk to the health, safety and life of participants in a trial starting January 11, 2021, in Waco or Austin, Texas, as well as to the communities in the Division where trial is held and communities in places where out-of-state participants will return after trial." According to the declaration, there is a 74% chance of "at least one person having COVID-19...

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Waco to Be the New Trial Hot Spot

With Judge Rodney Gilstrap of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas finally cancelling his winter trials in the face of surging cases, attention turns to the US District Court for the Western District of Texas, which Judge Alan Albright is going in a different direction. Waco has become the nation’s hottest patent infringement venue, in part due to Judge Albright’s willingness to bring patent cases quickly to trial. Defendants sued in the Waco Division frequently adopt a strategy of moving for an interdivisional transfer to Austin. Judge Albright has been amenable to such motions, but often he retains the case as the trial judge even as he transfers it to Austin. Yesterday he entered a noteworthy order in one such case. The Western District of Texas has continued trials through the end of 2020. However, judges in a particularly division may opt out of that order. The judges in Austin have not opted out. Thus, according to Judge Albright, the...

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 McDermott’s litigation team monitors US courts as they reopen amid the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis.

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