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AstroWorld lawsuits get underway

This is going to be fascinating, heartbreaking, infuriating, and a lot more.

Lawyers packed a Harris County civil courtroom Tuesday morning as the judge overseeing litigation stemming from the deadly Astroworld Festival concert outlined the first steps to organize the hundreds of cases since they were consolidated late last year.

The appearance marked the first time lawyers for some of the plaintiffs and defendants had set foot in a courtroom since the Nov. 5 tragedy, when nearly a dozen concert-goers — including children — died from compression asphyxia as a crowd surge pushed people together at the NRG Park festival.

“Our first cattle call,” is how Houston personal injury lawyer Brent Coon described the hearing — an attempt to organize the more than 300 lawsuits tied to the deadly show. Some lawyers were ushered into an overflow room. The plaintiffs include victim families, survivors and employees.

The Board of Judges of the Civil Trial Division of the Harris County District Courts decided in December to consolidate the suits into one filing, with 11th District Court Judge Kristen Hawkins tapped to oversee the proceedings. The civil judge in February issued a gag order preventing the parties involved from discussing the case outside of what happens in open court and relevant motions. She said the case “should be tried in the courtroom and not social media.”

[…]

The meeting identified lawyer Jason Itkin to speak for the plaintiffs in the mass of lawsuits, and Neal Manne for the defendants — which include Live Nation, rapper and headliner Travis Scott and others.

More than two dozen defendants have yet to respond to the litigation, Coon said, adding that the next gathering in four weeks will be crowded with more lawyers.

As noted in the story, there were a lot of lawsuits filed, with a lot of plaintiffs and some eye-popping numbers. It’s going to take awhile for all this to even get to pretrial motions, let alone the actual trial. Tune in at the end of March for the next likely update.

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One Comment

  1. Kibitzer Curiae says:

    Re: “The Board of Judges of the Civil Trial Division of the Harris County District Courts decided in December to consolidate the suits into one filing, with 11th District Court Judge Kristen Hawkins tapped to oversee the proceedings.”

    This seems inconsistent with the Jan 26, 2022 and Feb 6, 2022 orders of the Texas Multidistrict Litigation Panel, which is a state-level judicial-branch entity, not a local one.

    MDL No. 21-1033 IN RE ASTROWORLD LITIGATION
    https://search.txcourts.gov/Case.aspx?cn=21-1033&coa=cossup

    “Wherefore a Per Curiam Order dated January 26, 2022, in MDL No. 21-1033, In Re Astroworld Litigation, granted a Motion to Transfer cases to a multidistrict litigation (MDL) pretrial court; the Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, in accordance with Rule 13.6 of the Texas Rules of Judicial Administration, hereby designates the 11th District Court of Harris County, Texas, as the Pretrial Court and assigns the Honorable Kristen Hawkins as the Pretrial Judge.”

    Also note the following regarding the judge- and forum-shopping concerns:

    “[W]e have repeatedly stated that we disfavor requests that we appoint specific judges requested by the parties.” See, In re Farmers Ins. Co. Hurricane Harvey Litig., No. 18-0547, 2018 Tex. LEXIS 737, at *1 (Tex. M.D.L. Panel July 27, 2018); In re Alcon Shareholder Litig., 387 S.W.3d 121, 125 (Tex. M.D.L. Panel 2010); In re Digitek® Litig., 387 S.W.3d 115, 118 (Tex. M.D.L. Panel 2009) (“[W]e consider it improper for a motion to seek transfer to a certain court or county…. Such express requests are improper because Rule 13 is not meant to be a venue-changing or judge-selecting procedure.”); In re Petroleum Wholesale Litig., 339 S.W.3d 405, 409 (Tex. M.D.L. Panel 2009) (we disfavor the practice of parties suggesting a particular county or a particular judge, because the procedure is not supposed to facilitate forum shopping). See also, Tex. R. of Jud. Admin. 13.6 (a) (The “MDL Panel may assign as judge of the pretrial court any active district judge, or any former or retired district or appellate judge who is approved by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas.”).