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Juror, Lawyer in Texas Federal Trial Have Covid, Maybe Others

Nov. 12, 2020, 11:57 PM

At least two people —a juror and a lawyer—participating in a federal trial in Texas tested positive for Covid, prompting the judge to postpone proceedings for several days.

David O’Toole, clerk for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas that covers Sherman and Beaumont, confirmed the development in the civil case without disclosing the number of positive tests beyond the attorney, who was not identified, and the juror.

O’Toole said “multiple participants” tested positive and the court was reluctant to give more detail in an effort to protect personal information. Providing more information on the roles of those who tested positive could make it obvious who those people are, he said.

“Everybody involved in the trial has been asked to get tested as soon as possible,” O’Toole said.

He declined to comment when asked if the judge, Amos L. Mazzant, tested positive.

American Lawyer Media was the first to report the Covid development.

Courts Grapple with Virus

The infections impacting the trial at the Paul Brown United States Courthouse in Sherman are the latest example of federal courts grappling with the effects of coronavirus that is surging nationally. Covid has so far infected more than 10 million and killed more than 240,000 in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University figures.

Courts across the country halted in-person operations earlier in the pandemic, and have slowly been trying to resume operations as health conditions allow. Rising cases, however, may slow that progress.

The Eastern District of Texas paused jury trials at the beginning of the pandemic and restarted as Covid-19 rates declined. The court has been conducting jury trials since June.

The court hasn’t had any other Covid-19 cases related to jury trials, but it has been notified when people who visited the court and later tested positive for the virus, O’Toole said. In those cases, the court took “remedial action appropriate to the level of exposure,” he said.

Throughout the district, court goers and staff are required to wear masks and there are temperature checks and social distancing measures, O’Toole said. Courtrooms are equipped with barriers around things like witness stands or jury boxes, though those can vary between courtrooms, he said.

“There is an ongoing constitutional duty to address and resolve civil disputes and serious criminal proceedings, despite the public health environment in which we find ourselves,” O’Toole said. “We are making every effort we can to proceed safely.”

Covid Timeline

The Eastern District of Texas informed participants that the juror tested positive on Nov. 9, according to a minute entry. That juror had already been dismissed and was last in contact with people in the courthouse on Nov. 6 before the trial adjourned for the weekend.

The court instructed the remaining participants to self-quarantine and get tested for the virus by Nov. 13. Jurors were asked to send their results to the courtroom deputy clerk as soon as they received them.

The trial is set to resume Nov. 30 assuming there are no further jury or other issues, the court determined on Friday.

Mazzant didn’t respond to a request for comment on the status of the Covid-19 tests. Lawyers for both parties also didn’t respond to request for comment.

The courthouse closed through Nov. 13 for cleaning and will reopen Nov. 16, according to the court’s website. That is subject to change.

The General Services Administration is responsible for ensuring that all the infected areas of the courthouse are cleaned and will notify the court when that process is done, O’Toole said.

The case is ResMan, LLC v. Karya Property Management, LLC, E.D. Tex., No. 4:19-cv-00402, minute entry 11/9/20.

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

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