Western District’s New Emergency COVID-19 Order Cancels Trials Through November 30th with One Big Exception

October 16th, 2020 By David L. Plaut

Chief Judge Orlando Garcia has issued a new emergency COVID-19 Order, dated October 14, 2020.  The new Order continues all civil and criminal trials through November 30, 2020.  Order at ¶1.  The Order indicates these trials are being continued, at least in part, because of a “reduced ability to obtain an adequate spectrum of jurors” and “due to reduced availability of attorneys and court staff to be present in the courtrooms” because of COVID-19 and “public health considerations.”  Id. at ¶2

However, this most recent emergency Order is subject to a significant exception:  “[i]f judges in a specific division determine jury trials can be safely conducted, the most senior district judge may enter an order making those findings and resuming jury trials for the Division despite this order with notice to the Chief Judge.”

In August of 2019, citing a “meaningful decline” in new COVID-19 cases, Judge Alan Albright determined that jury trials could be held safely in the Western District’s Waco Division, which encompasses 13 counties. In mid-October, Judge Albright tried a patent case with a masked jury, which returned a verdict for Defendant Roku Inc.   Seeking $41 million in damages, Plaintiff MV3 Partners had sued Roku over technology that allowed smartphone content to be played on a television.  Despite the result in the Roku case, it remains to be seen how many other civil trials go forward in the Western District – whether by agreement or Court order – in the coming months.