Law360 (November 12, 2020, 8:48 PM EST) -- A trial in the Eastern District of Texas has been suspended after multiple participants, including a juror and an attorney, tested positive for COVID-19, Law360 confirmed on Thursday.
U.S. District Judge Amos L. Mazzant III put the breach of contract trial in the Sherman courthouse on hold Monday after learning that a juror tested positive. An attorney working on the case has also tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
"There's at least one attorney and at least one juror as of right now, I can confirm that," David O'Toole, clerk of court for the Eastern District of Texas, said Thursday. "We don't know ultimately how many people may be infected, so the numbers could change. … All I'm prepared to say now is there are multiple individuals who we have confirmation that they're COVID-positive that were participants in the trial."
The court has suggested that everyone involved in the trial get tested as soon as possible, and "I think there are a fair number of folks out being tested even as we speak," O'Toole said.
He declined to say whether Judge Mazzant had tested positive of COVID-19, saying "obviously, we're not going to comment on the status of any individual by name, and that would include the judge."
According to court records, the attorneys present at the trial for plaintiff ResMan LLC were from Hogan Lovells and Potter Minton PC. Defendant Karya Property Management LLC was represented at the trial by attorneys from Beck Redden LLP and Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP.
The judge has scheduled a phone conference with the attorneys for Friday morning to discuss the next steps for the case, in which ResMan accuses Karya of giving another company unauthorized access to a property management software platform in violation of a contract.
Jury selection was held Nov. 2 and the trial was scheduled to last for two weeks. Jurors heard testimony every day last week and on Monday morning, according to court records. After lunch on Monday, the judge advised the jurors and attorneys that one of the jurors had tested positive for COVID-19.
The judge then suspended the trial and asked participants to get tested and provide the court with the results as soon as they were received. The judge advised participants to consult with their physicians about self-quarantining.
According to O'Toole, the juror who tested positive had been excused from the trial for reasons unrelated to COVID-19 after hearing several days of testimony, and was last in the courthouse on Nov. 6. The juror tested positive after being excused and advised the court.
The Paul Brown U.S. Courthouse in Sherman, where the trial took place, has been closed so it can be subjected to deep cleaning by the General Services Administration, which manages federal facilities, O'Toole said.
While many federal courts have suspended in-person jury trials due to the pandemic, the Eastern District of Texas has been holding them since June after a layoff of several months.
According to O'Toole, the district as a whole has conducted 20 jury trials during that time. On Nov. 6, a jury in a patent trial in Marshall returned a verdict clearing Google of infringing four video patents. Eight trials have taken place in the Sherman courthouse where the recent positive tests occurred.
"We're doing everything reasonably possible to provide a safe environment to conduct hearings and trials in our courtrooms, but obviously, there's no 100% foolproof way to prevent an infection," O'Toole said.
Judges in the Eastern District of Texas have used a variety of safety measures during the pandemic. People entering Judge Mazzant's courthouse in Sherman have their temperatures checked daily, physical barriers have been set up in some parts of the courtroom, and mask-wearing and social distancing are required, O'Toole said.
He said judges in the Eastern District of Texas are "always reassessing" whether to continue having in-person trials, based on government guidelines and virus statistics in their areas.
"There are conversations ongoing among the entire court as a whole and individual judges," he said. "Our district spans a huge geographical area. We have courts in rural areas and courts in large metropolitan areas. So each district judge in their respective division and courthouse is ultimately making that final call."
In addition to the suspension of the trial in Sherman, the Eastern District of Texas has shut down individual courthouses for cleaning on multiple occasions since the spring after learning that a person who tested positive had been present, O'Toole said.
"I don't have any exact numbers, but we've had a handful of situations since March where … we became aware that somebody who was COVID-positive was in one of our courthouses within the district," he said.
Based on how long they were there and where they went in the building, the court determines whether and how long to close the courthouse for cleaning, he said.
"We make a decision on how we are going to respond regarding our personnel and our office space, and of course, the judges make the final determination on anything related to their cases and their hearings and their trials," he said.
A representative of Hogan Lovells declined to comment on the COVID-19 situation at the trial. Attorneys for the defendant could not immediately be reached for comment.
ResMan is represented by Maria Wyckoff Boyce, Cristina Espinosa Rodriguez, Jillian Beck, Ira Jamshidi, S. Lee Whitesell and Jessica Ellsworth of Hogan Lovells, Michael Jones of Potter Minton PC, Tommy Jacks of Fish & Richardson PC and Daniel Winston and Greta Fails of Choate Hall & Stewart LLP.
Karya is represented by Michael Richardson and Seepan Parseghian of Beck Redden LLP and Mark Strachan, Richard Sayles and Robert Sayles of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP.
The case is ResMan LLC v. Karya Property Management LLC, case number 4:19-cv-00402, in the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Texas.
--Editing by Emily Kokoll.
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