Patent Voir Dire During COVID

Now that the next Waco patent jury trial is less than two weeks away (see previous post HERE), it’s time to discuss Judge Albright’s proposed procedure for the upcoming jury selection. When we were invited to the courthouse to see a demonstration of the new technology (see previous post HERE), Judge Albright discussed his current plans for voir dire to ensure that all health and safety precautions are taken, noting that he is open to input from the parties as well.

Although the courtroom would allow for 42 prospective jurors in the courtroom at once, the number will be limited to approximately 15-20 at a time in order to ensure proper social distancing. The gallery has 7 rows and there will be one juror per row on each side of the gallery (14 total). There will likely be about 3 chairs spaced in the center aisle for jurors as well, and 4-5 jurors spread out in the jury box. Below is a comparison of the current proposed layout for the upcoming voir dire versus typical voir dire procedure (with 42 jurors):

Proposed Current Voir Dire Configuration
Typical Voir Dire Configuration

Judge Manske will be presiding over voir dire. He will conduct the initial questioning of the panel, who will be limited to physical responses (i.e. hand raise or standing up) instead of verbal responses. When Judge Manske finishes his questioning, the parties will begin their questioning. One by one, each prospective juror will sit in the witness box for individual questioning from each side. Since the witness box is enclosed within plexiglass, the jurors can safely remove their masks so their faces are visible during questioning.

The remaining members of the panel will be socially distanced in an overflow room. As voir dire is conducted in the courtroom, it will be streamed into the overflow room for the rest of the panel. The panel members in the overflow room will not be answering the questions, but they will be able to hear what is being asked of the members in the courtroom. The overflow room is equipped with microphones so that if it is necessary to ask questions of anyone in the overflow room, they can respond directly. The final jury will consist of 7 members.