Friday, February 28, 2014

Bedbugs And Avatars

Those of us who follow the opinions issued by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals always keep an eye open for the decisions written by Judge Charles E. Moylan, Jr.

Simply put, Judge Moylan knows how to write in a clear yet entertaining style that makes his opinions a pleasure to read.

That skill is on display in a decision issued yesterday.

Judge Moylan introduces the issue

There is a venerable body of law, of which Wernsing v. General Motors Corp., 298 Md. 406, 470 A.2d 802 (1984), is the avatar, seeking to preserve the advantages of finality and repose in jury verdicts once rendered. There is a counter body of law, of which Jenkins v. State, 375 Md. 284, 825 A.2d 1008 (2003), is the more recent avatar, dedicated to rooting out jury verdicts that are tainted. There is unquestioned merit in both philosophies. At times, however, they meet in tectonic collision.

There is an understandable tendency in those moving for new trials on the basis of tainted verdicts to wrap themselves in the mantle of Jenkins (and several criminal cases in its slip stream) and to pay faint heed to the long procession of opinions in the Wernsing v. General Motors tradition. There is a counter tendency, as the State opposes the retrial motions, to exalt the pedigree of Wernsing and to give scant, if not disdainful, notice to Jenkins. Opposing advocates sometimes challenge an appellate court to flip a coin between conflicting and seemingly irreconcilable approaches. There has to be a better way.

At issue was a case of bedbug infestation in a rental unit. The plaintiff had sued her landlord and lost. Her attorney encountered a juror in the parking lot after the verdict and filed a motion based on the juror's statements.

Here, the court affirmed the trial court's decision not to grant a new trial. (Mike Frisch)

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