Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lawyer-Juror's Article Leads To Reversal Of Judgment

The New Jersey Appellate Division reversed  an $876,000 plaintiff's verdict in a slip-and-fall case where the plaintiff had fallen while looking for pantyhose in aisle five of a supermarket owned by the defendant. The court did not conclude that, standing alone, the "antics" of plaintiff's counsel required that the trial court grant the defendant's mistrial motion. Rather, the jury foreperson was a New Jersey State Senator, full-time law professor and lawyer who had published an article in the New Jersey Law Journal about his experiences serving as a juror. The defendant contended that the article "disclosed that he improperly influenced the jurors and that there was apparent misunderstanding of the jury charges."

After the article was published, the defendant sought a new trial. At a hearing, the lawyer-juror contended that he had overstated his influence over the other jurors. The court here decided that "we cannot so easily accept his assertion," noting that several other jurors had testified that he had influenced the discussion of damages and that they were aware of his legal background.

The court thus rejected the trial court's finding that there was no evidence of jury misconduct: "...our review of the entire record convinces us that [the lawyer-juror's] explanaltions to the jurors had a 'tendency' to influence the verdict. That 'tendency' coupled with the cumulative trial errors, deprived defendant of a fair trial." (Mike Frisch)

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