Friday, August 21, 2009

Jury Trial Right Not Waived

A case summary from the web page of the Tennessee Court of Appeals:

The dispositive issue on appeal pertains to a party’s fundamental and constitutional right to a jury trial guaranteed by Tenn. Const. art. I, § 6, and whether the defendants impliedly waived their right to a jury trial by being late for court. Both defendants had timely demanded a jury trial in their respective answers to the complaint; however, neither defendant was in the courtroom when court convened at 9:10 a.m. on the morning of trial. When the defendants appeared, the trial judge required that the case proceed to trial without a jury. The facts in this case reveal that the case was set to begin at 9:00 a.m. on July 5, 2007, that the trial judge convened court at 9:10 a.m., that immediately upon taking the bench the trial court ascertained that the defendants were not in thecourt room, and that without making any inquiry concerning their absence made the finding that the defendants had implicitly waived their right to a jury trial. The facts also reveal that one of the defendants, Alan Siliski, had been in the courtroom prior to court being convened, but went outside to await the arrival of his attorney, who had called to advise he was running late. As for the other defendant, Jennifer Siliski, the facts reveal that the plaintiff voluntarily dismissed its case against her during a pretrial conference three days earlier; however, a few hours after the conference the plaintiff informed the court, but not Ms. Siliski, that it had reconsidered and determined that Ms. Siliski was an indispensable party, therefore, it was not dismissing its case against her. Plaintiff contends Ms. Siliski received word of the change via a circuitous route from plaintiff’s counsel to Mr. Siliski’s counsel to Mr. Siliski, who was to inform Ms. Siliski that she was again a party in the fraudulent conveyances action. Ms. Siliski, however, insists that no one informed her that she was once again a party. It is undisputed that the plaintiff did not directly inform Ms. Siliski of this important fact and no one else testified that they personally informed Ms. Siliski of the change of circumstances prior to the morning of the trial. We have determined the above facts are not sufficient to support a finding that either defendant impliedly waived his or her right to a jury trial because a waiver should not be inferred without reasonably clear evidence of an intent to waive. Therefore, the defendants are entitled to a jury trial as each defendant had timely demanded. Accordingly, the judgments entered against the defendants as a result of the bench trial are vacated, and this matter is remanded for a jury trial on the issues.

The plaintiff is an attorney who had sued her former client for breach of contract and fraudulent conveyance. The court's opinion is linked here. (Mike Frisch)

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