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Fifth Circuit Holds Rare In-Person Arguments Amid Pandemic

Jan. 6, 2021, 7:25 PM

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held two in-person oral arguments in Houston for the first time since the start of the pandemic and scheduled two more.

Arguments presented on Tuesday and those set for Wednesday at the Bob Casey U.S. Courthouse stand out at a time when Covid cases are surging in Texas and elsewhere and most circuit and Supreme Court proceedings remain virtual.

Attorneys who participated in the arguments, however, said they felt comfortable with health precautions the court took to limit potentially spreading the virus.

“I was quite impressed,” said Kevin D. Evans, a Colorado-based attorney who argued in the second in-person case Tuesday. Microphones were outfitted with covers that were replaced between speakers and lawyers were required to wear masks until they were presenting, he said.

The oral argument was for a contract dispute involving defendants Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, the owner of the Los Angeles Rams, Outdoor Channel Holdings, and plaintiff Nic Salomon over the purchase of an aerial camera business.

Evans, who represented the defendant, flew to the argument and said he preferred in-person to virtual proceedings. “There’s no substitute for in-person appearances, so I’m glad the courts are getting back to normal,” he said. Evans said it was his first in-person argument since February.

Although the argument was intended to be entirely in-person, the plaintiff’s counsel, Texas-based Susan J. Clouthier, had to argue by phone at the last minute. Clouthier said she was feeling sick and decided not to argue in person out of an abundance of caution.

“I feel very comfortable with the level of how careful they’re being,” Clouthier said. In addition to the court’s request that people wear masks, Clouthier said the court provided individual check-in times for each lawyer, so they wouldn’t come in at the same time.

The court didn’t respond to requests for comment. Counsel in the other case heard Tuesday involving a criminal appeal, also didn’t respond to request for comment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Madison Alder in Washington at malder@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com