Law360 (April 2, 2021, 12:59 PM EDT) -- A former NFL linebacker suing a builder he says tried to sell his copyrighted "dream home" will have an in-person bench trial but with some lawyers and witnesses appearing virtually, a federal judge ruled Friday.
Matt Chatham, a former New England Patriots player, had asked for a live bench trial so he could confront Daniel Lewis and his company, Canterbury Ventures LLC, who allegedly caused delays and tacked on fees during the construction of Chatham's home before ultimately pulling the plug on their contract.
Canterbury had asked for a virtual proceeding, noting that some of its lawyers are from Colorado and that certain witnesses, lawyers and other parties who are not vaccinated may not want to schlep to Boston during the COVID-19 pandemic.
U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani split the difference in her ruling Friday.
"The protocols in place in the courthouse have been designed in consultation with medical experts," Judge Talwani wrote in a brief docket entry. "The court is satisfied that they place no undue risk on participants; and the court intends to proceed with the in-person trial as scheduled."
She noted that the two sides had agreed earlier in the litigation to forgo a jury trial and have a live bench trial. Still, the judge called a slight audible, writing that interstate travel is still discouraged by public health experts and government officials during the pandemic.
"Accordingly, out-of-state witnesses and counsel may participate in the proceeding by video link," the judge wrote.
Her courtroom in the Boston federal courthouse will be wired with three cameras: one pointed at her, one at the witness stand and one directed toward the lawyers' table. Those tuning in remotely will also be able to hear audio from the microphones around the room, and monitors will allow those appearing in person to see those who are not present.
Judge Talwani asked for a list of any lawyers or witnesses who will appear virtually by Monday. The trial is set to begin April 12.
The suit has included a blitz of filings since it was launched by Chatham and his wife, Erin, in 2017. Most recently, Canterbury on Thursday asked the judge to strike the intellectual property claim from what it described as a simple breach of contract case.
The copyright claim was filed in August of 2018 and added to the previous Massachusetts law claims when the relationship between the Chathams and Canterbury went south. Chatham argued that he designed the home in suburban Boston himself and owns a copyright to the blueprints. After the falling out between the parties, Canterbury wanted to sell the home to someone else, which would have constituted a violation of Chatham's copyright, he claims.
Canterbury has slammed the copyright claim as a ginned up count that was meant to ratchet up the pressure on the builder and try to gain leverage.
Judge Talwani had not ruled on the motion as of Friday. The parties are scheduled to appear in her courtroom on April 8 for a final pretrial conference.
An attorney for Canterbury declined to comment Friday, and counsel for Chatham did not return a comment request.
The Chathams are represented by Thomas P. McNulty, John N. Anastasi and Nathan T. Harris of Lando & Anastasi LLP and Paul R. Mordarski of Morrissey Hawkins & Lynch.
Canterbury and Lewis are represented by Mark Corner of Riemer & Braunstein LLP and Robert R. Brunelli and Scott R. Bialecki of Sheridan Ross PC.
The case is Chatham et al. v. Canterbury Ventures LLC et al., case number 1:17-cv-11473, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.
--Editing by Rich Mills.
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