Texas Courts Fix Its Judge Alan Albright Problem By Automatically Reassigning Most Of His Patent Cases
from the judge-albright-sure-brought-change-to-texas dept
Remember Judge Alan Albright? He was the former patent litigator who became a federal judge (the only federal judge) in Waco, Texas, which is part of the Western District of Texas. You may remember, going further back, that the Eastern District of Texas became quite infamous for being the favored venue for of patent trolls, after a bunch of judges there made it clear that they were super friendly to them. That resulted in two courts in the district, Marshall and Tyler, being flooded with patent cases. The Supreme Court cut back on that a little bit, by saying that such cases should be filed in the proper venue. And, even though the West Texas judges tried their best to ignore the Supreme Court, things began to finally settle down a bit.
That seemed like a problem to Albright who, upon being appointed as the only federal judge in Waco, realized that he had gold on his hands, and literally went on a tour telling companies to file patent cases in his district. Since he was the only judge in that district, the cases were guaranteed to be assigned to him. In late 2020, two professors, Jonas Anderson and Paul Gugliuzza, called this out in a paper and referred to the concept as “forum selling,” as an alternative to the concept of “forum shopping” (plaintiffs searching for the most favorable venue to file suit in) that people have known about for years.
Just the fact that a judge was directly advertising for litigants to file in his court seemed pretty damn corrupt. That he was then flooded with cases, and appointed a patent troll lawyer to help him handle the load as a magistrate judge, seemed even more sketchy. At one point, one out of every four new patent cases in the entire country was going to Judge Albright — who was then basically resisting efforts by other courts to force him to transfer those cases. As Senators Thom Tillis and Pat Leahy noted last year, Waco would previously get about one or two patent cases every year, but after Albright became a judge there, it got nearly 800 such cases in 2020 and around 900 in 2021.
It got so crazy that Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts weighed in at the end of last year, listing Judge Albright’s forum selling as one of the three biggest issues he saw facing the US judicial system.
Many of us have been waiting for the other shoe to drop, and it appears that the Western District of Texas federal courts have finally stepped in to try to solve their Judge Albright problem. Not by firing him, of course, because the US has a weird aversion to getting rid of even the worst judges.
However, on Monday, somewhat out of the blue, the Western District of Texas announced that, for patent cases, no matter which division you filed the case in, the case would be randomly assigned to a judge somewhere in the Western District but not necessarily the district you filed in. The order, from Chief Judge of the Western District Orlando Garcia, doesn’t try to hide what this is about. Everyone knows this is about Albright and his court in Waco:
Upon consideration of the volume of new patent cases assigned to the Waco Division, and in an effort to equitably distribute those cases, it is hearby ORDERED that, in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 137, all civil cases involving patents… filed in the Waco Division on or after July 25, 2022, shall be randomly assigned to the following district judges of this Court until further order of the Court.
Basically, no more choosing Judge Albright for your patent cases. Yes, Judge Albright is one of the listed judges, but there are now 11 other judges who might get the cases as well, which massively diminishes the likelihood of any patent plaintiff of getting Judge Albright on their case.
This needed to be done. But the fact that this needed to be done seems like a condemnation of the entire system that allowed a Judge Albright situation to occur in the first place. The fact that it took two years to even attempt to fix it, during which time a ton of patent defendants were forced into Judge Albright’s court, should be seen as a real problem.
This fix is a band-aid. An important one, but one that should still call into question how we got here in the first place.