Law360 (July 30, 2020, 10:08 PM EDT) -- A Colorado federal jury serving in a "pilot" in-person trial on Wednesday awarded a communications company only a tiny fraction of the roughly $2 million it was seeking from one of its former dealers it had accused of unauthorized sales, leaving the company's attorney feeling that bringing in the jury wasn't worth the health risk.
After deliberating for roughly four hours on the third day of the trial as the coronavirus pandemic continued to sweep across the U.S., the seven-person Denver jury returned with a verdict partially in favor of Altigen Communications, which had alleged that CTI Communications LLC had kept selling its products despite losing authorization to do so.
The jury found that CTI and its owner Richard Browne had infringed Altigen's trademarks and awarded a mere $3,190 in damages. It otherwise rejected Altigen's claims of copyright infringement and violation of a Colorado consumer protection law.
The trial involved safety measures, including placing the jury in the courtroom gallery for social distancing and requiring masks for everyone in the courtroom, including witnesses and attorneys.
Altigen's attorney, Harold Bruno III of Robinson Waters & O'Dorisio PC, told Law360 he had some misgivings about going to trial.
He said that while he thought the trial was conducted in a safe manner, he felt it was too much to ask jurors to serve in-person during the pandemic.
"I still have some guilty feelings about that," Bruno said. "I'm a person who had COVID and about halfway through the trial I started feeling that it was wrong to bring the jurors in. It's too risky."
Bruno added that his bout with COVID-19 was the worst illness he's ever experienced and that he was hospitalized for four days. He said he has since made a full recovery.
As for the verdict itself, Bruno said that Altigen was seeking $2 million in damages and was disappointed in the jury's finding.
Altigen filed suit in February 2019. The business phone system company alleged that CTI was once an authorized reseller of these systems, but that its status was revoked in March 2016. Altigen alleged that CTI continued to hold itself out as an authorized dealer, and continued to sell copyrighted licenses of Altigen products using a still-authorized dealer's access to Altigen's business portal.
CTI pushed back in court documents that it had only been servicing products it had sold while it was authorized to do so, and that Altigen was aware of this fact.
In mid-June, U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson asked the parties whether they would be willing to try the case as one of several "pilot" jury trials being proposed by the judges in the district to evaluate whether and how to safely conduct in-person jury trials during the pandemic.
After the other three cases settled or were otherwise disposed of, Altigen and CTI continued toward trial. The case was selected for the pilot because it could be tried in only a few days, was a civil case, and the parties strongly desired to get to trial even with the obligatory safety measures, Judge Jackson told Law360 via email on Wednesday.
Judge Jackson said the court imposed numerous safety restrictions, including social distancing, masks and frequent cleaning of the courtroom during the trial, as well as holding jury deliberations in an adjacent courtroom.
"All participants complied willingly with [safety] measures without complaint or incident," he said. "It appeared to me that these important precautions were well designed and successful."
Judge Jackson said the court sent out 30 summonses and 25 prospective jurors showed up. He added that the court has already identified a small number of possible pilot jury trials for August.
Jury selection took place in the courthouse's large ceremonial courtroom, so that 22 randomly selected prospective jurors could be socially distanced during the process.
CTI attorney Tracy Oldemeyer of Cline Williams Wright Johnson & Oldfather LLP said the safety measures took some getting used to, most notably the fact that witnesses had to wear masks even while testifying.
"That's a concern because when you have credibility concerns you want to see facial expressions," she said.
Both Oldemeyer and Altigen attorney Bruno made mention of just how hot it felt wearing a mask throughout the trial.
Overall, however, Oldemeyer said she didn't have any reservations about proceeding with the safety measures in place, and noted how important it was to her client not to have to wait until after the pandemic to get a resolution in the case.
"It was the big publicly traded company versus the little guy, and the little guy needed to get finality," she said. "Some might say, 'Was it necessary?' Well, if nobody gets sick in the next two weeks, my client is delighted," she said.
Altigen is represented by Harold Bruno III and Elizabeth Michaels of Robinson Waters & O'Dorisio PC.
CTI is represented by Tracy Oldemeyer of Cline Williams Wright Johnson & Oldfather LLP.
The case is Altigen Communications Inc. v. CTI Communications LLC et al., case number 1:19-cv-00488, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.
--Editing by Bruce Goldman.
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