Legal Law

The federal courtroom on the heart of a COVID outbreak

A mistrial on a federal case is usually not news, I mean, maybe if it's a notorious family case, like in the movies, but in most civil cases, these things happen without too much fanfare. But if COVID-19 turns your case off nicely, that's news.

A breach of contract between plaintiff ResMan LLC and defendant Karya Property Management LLC, chaired by Amos L. Mazzant II in the eastern district of Texas, was overridden by a novel coronavirus outbreak as reported by Law360. How bad is the outbreak? Well, last 13 people count. Yikes:

David O’Toole, an employee of the Eastern District of Texas, told Law360 Tuesday that the number of study participants who tested positive for coronavirus had increased from at least seven on Friday to 13 confirmed positive results on Tuesday. Positive cases include two jurors, at least three members of the defense team, a "handful of people" on the plaintiff's team, and three or four court officials.

The outbreak occurred after the testimony began in the process:

The jury selection took place on November 2nd and the process should take two weeks. According to court records, the jury heard testimony every day last week and on November 9th.

After lunch on November 9, the judge informed jurors and attorneys that a recently apologized juror had tested positive for the coronavirus.

The judge then suspended the process and asked participants to get tested and to present the results to the court as soon as they were received. The judge advised participants to consult with their doctors about self-quarantine.

As a result, there are currently only five jurors willing to move forward and the defendants are unwilling to move forward with fewer than six jurors. So … yes, Judge Mazzant has declared a mistrial.

Judge Mazzant noted that this particular case seems like an outlier – although that's the thing about COVID: it doesn't matter how many times you've done something in the past, it's always a risk bringing people together inside:

"I apologize for all of this," said the judge. "We did seven uneventful attempts again, and I believe the district made about 20 uneventful attempts, and this time we had problems."

When announcing the mistrial, Mazzant also said there will be no judicial proceedings for the remainder of 2020:

"I won't go through any more lawsuits until December," he said. "We plan to resume in January provided the numbers look up."

Hopefully Texas will have the virus (somewhat) better under control by then. Our best wishes to everyone who has impacted their COVID recovery.

Kathryn Rubino is Senior Editor at Above the Law and host of The Jabot podcast. AtL tipsters are the best so please connect with her. Feel free to email her tips, questions, or comments and follow her on Twitter (@ Kathryn1).

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