from the forum-selling dept
We’ve written a bit about Judge Alan Albright, the only judge in the US district court in Waco, Texas. Judge Albright, a former patent litigator, decided that, upon taking the bench, he’d become the friendliest court for patent cases in the entire country. He even went around advertising that patent plaintiff’s should file there and they’ve taken him up on it in droves. Since he’s the only judge in the district, all the cases get assigned to him and, at last count, more than 25% of new patent cases are all going to him. He’s so busy with patent cases he had to hire a former patent troll lawyer as a magistrate judge to help him out.
He’s also, somewhat famously, been pissing off the notoriously pro-patent appeals court for patent cases, the Federal Circuit, by refusing to rule on transfer requests to more appropriate districts, while making the process for patent defendants more expensive and cumbersome. It got so bad that even the generally pro-patent Senator Thom Tillis sent a couple of letters to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts (who oversees the court system) and to the USPTO, about Albright’s “forum selling.”
It took a little while, but the Administrative Office of the US Courts, has finally responded to the letter sent by Tillis (and Senator Pat Leahy) to Justice Roberts, noting that it appears to be somewhat aware of the problems of Judge Albright.
From a long-standing national policy perspective, the Judicial Conference strongly supports the random assignment of cases and the notion that all district judges remain generalists…. Random case assignment is used in all federal courts and operates to safeguard the Judiciary?s autonomy while deterring judge-shopping and the assignment of cases based on the perceived merits or abilities of a particular judge. It bears mentioning that in September 2021, I submitted my Final Report to Congress pursuant to Section (1)(e) of the Patent Pilot Program in Certain District Courts Act, Pub. L. No. 111-349 (2011) counseling against extending the Patent Pilot Program due, in part, to the Judiciary?s longstanding position on random case assignment and to help ensure that all district judges remain generalists.
While admitting that district courts, including the ones in the Western District of Texas “have wide latitude to establish case assignment systems,” the Administrative Office of the Courts still seems to recognize that there’s a problem in Waco and will explore if anything can be done:
Given these varied divisional case assignment policies as well as the concerns that you have raised, I have asked the Committee on Court Administration and Case Management, which has jurisdiction on matters affecting case management, to consider these issues and any recommendations that may be warranted.
That may sound rather muted, but it’s still quite noteworthy. The US court system is generally resistant to changes, and just acknowledging that it understands the concerns of Tillis and Leahy, and will explore options already suggests that others in the federal judiciary recognize just how sketchy and corrupt-appearing Judge Albight’s courtroom looks right now.
Furthermore, in his year end report on the state of the federal judiciary, Justice Roberts explicitly calls out Albright’s activity (though he’s too chickenshit to note that it’s just Judge Albright who’s the problem):
The third agenda topic I would like to highlight is an arcane but important matter of judicial administration: judicial assignment and venue for patent cases in federal trial court. Senators from both sides of the aisle have expressed concern that case assignment procedures allowing the party filing a case to select a division of a district court might, in effect, enable the plaintiff to select a particular judge to hear a case. Two important and sometimes competing values are at issue. First, the Judicial Conference has long supported the random assignment of cases and fostered the role of district judges as generalists capable of handling the full range of legal issues. But the Conference is also mindful that Congress has intentionally shaped the lower courts into districts and divisions codified by law so that litigants are served by federal judges tied to their communities. Reconciling these values is important to public confidence in the courts, and I have asked the Director of the Administrative Office, who serves as Secretary of the Judicial Conference, to put the issue before the Conference.
The Committee on Court Administration and Case Management is reviewing this matter and will report back to the full Conference. This issue of judicial administration provides another good example of a matter that self-governing bodies of judges from the front lines are in the best position to study and solve?and to work in partnership with Congress in the event change in the law is necessary.
This was one of only three specific topics he called out, so it seems pretty clear that he’s well aware of how Albright has made a complete mockery of his courtroom.