Jury Trial Amid Texas Virus Spike Averted by Samsung Settlement

Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. settled a patent lawsuit in Texas that had been slated next week for one of the nation’s first live jury trials since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, despite a surge in infections in the state.

Henry Bunsow, the California-based lawyer for plaintiff Image Processing Technologies LLC, confirmed the resolution of the smartphone facial-recognition technology dispute. He declined to say whether the prospect of a trial starting Monday in federal court in Marshall, Texas, had helped the parties reach a deal.

“That was on everyone’s mind but I cannot tell you if or what the impact might have been,” the lawyer said. Samsung declined to comment on the case.

Bunsow, 71, had previously asked for a delay, expressing reservations about his team traveling to Texas, which has been seeing record numbers of new infections. But U.S. District Judge Rodney Gilstrap on Monday ordered the trial to proceed.

“We can’t just sit and wait until Covid is eradicated off the face of the earth and there’s zero-percent chance that anybody will get it,” Gilstrap said in an interview with Bloomberg before the settlement.

How to safely resume jury trials and other public court proceedings in an era of social distancing has been among the biggest challenges facing the U.S. legal system. Courthouses across the nation have largely closed, and many high-profile cases have been delayed for months.

But Gilstrap said a delay would have been unfair to Samsung executives and witnesses from South Korea, who were already quarantining in Marshall, which is near the Louisiana border, for two weeks. He advised out-of-state lawyers they could avoid potentially Covid-plagued Texas airports by flying into Little Rock, Arkansas, and driving the rest of the way, a three-and-a-half hour trip.

The federal docket Gilstrap oversees in Marshall is one of the nation’s busiest for patent filings. The judge cited the accumulating backlog caused by courthouse closures as another reason not to delay the Samsung trial. The backlog “is already daunting and only likely to get worse,” he said. “You reach the point where you have to start the process again.”

Social distancing and other safety measures would have been observed for the five-day trial, Gilstrap said, with jurors issued face masks, gloves and hand sanitizer. Witnesses and lawyers would have been required to take off their masks during examinations though. “It is critical the jury be able to see their body language and the totality of their communication,” he said.

Gilstrap also said Marshall was relatively safe, with surrounding Harrison County seeing only 16 new coronovirus cases in the previous week. “Marshall is in a materially different posture than Dallas or Houston,” he said. “We may get there, but we’re not there yet.”

The case is Image Processing Technologies LLC v Samsung Electronics Co., 2:20-050, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Texas (Marshall).

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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