Wednesday, March 7, 2012
A juror who had served on a jury that delivered a defense verdict in a medical malpractice case went into a bar and spoke to a member of the Bar on the day that the verdict was rendered. A discussion of the juror's service ensued.
As a result, the Oklahoma Supreme Court has ordered a new trial.
The court described the incident:
In the case at hand, a jury returned verdicts in favor of the defendants on plaintiffs' medical malpractice claims. Plaintiffs raised the issue of juror bias for the first time in their motion for new trial. The record of the evidentiary hearing on the motion for new trial reveals that plaintiffs did not learn of the bias on the part of a particular juror until after the verdicts were rendered and the jury discharged. The record reflects that the juror in question went to an Oklahoma City bar later in the day after the trial was concluded. It is undisputed that the juror talked to another individual at the bar about his service on the jury in this case. The other individual was an attorney and a member of the Oklahoma Bar Association. This attorney was employed as a deputy general counsel for an agency of the State of Oklahoma and had no connection to the case or the attorneys for the parties.
According to this attorney, the juror related, inter alia, that (1) the plaintiffs would have never won the case with him (the juror) serving in the case, (2) he (the juror) was not impartial despite stating in voir dire he could be, and (3) he (the juror) wanted to "play the judicial system" and believed plaintiffs had the burden to prove the defendants intended harm beyond a reasonable doubt before they could recover. The attorney also related that the juror expressed his dislike for African Americans. The plaintiffs in this case are African Americans.
The juror also had been untruthful in the voir dire.
One of the significant facts in this case is that the disqualifying bias was disclosed by the juror himself, and not by other jurors repeating statements made by the juror during deliberations. Another significant fact is that the juror spontaneously disclosed the bias to a person unconnected to the parties and their counsel, and not in response to prying questions by the parties or their counsel. We stress these points to limit our holding in this case to cases with comparable circumstances.
We also stress these points to make it clear that this Court does not condone jurors impeaching verdicts, or disclosing statements made by other jurors during deliberations. Neither do we endorse efforts by the parties or their counsel to discover a juror's thoughts or personal decision-making process. In a few words, the shocking circumstances of this rogue juror are an absolute factual anomaly that we hope is never to be seen again in Oklahoma jurisprudence. We caution that we will not permit the holding in this case to be used to manufacture a ground for new trial, but we are likewise not hesitant to afford the remedy of new trial free from bias, if such circumstances are ever repeated.
A concurring opinion states in part:
The facts of this case, must be viewed very narrowly. The juror openly volunteered to a total stranger his predilection to deny the litigants a fair trial. The stranger happened to be a member of the Oklahoma Bar Association whose very oath as an attorney includes the support and defense of the Oklahoma Constitution. If we allow the open, intentional destruction of the justice system, by jurors whose agenda is to deny to others the basic principles of equality and justice by reason of personal bias or prejudice concerning a party, we erode the pillars of our constitution.
There is also a dissent. (Mike Frisch)