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Posts filed under 'Juror Concealment'

Court Lifts Limits on Alternate Jurors in Civil Trials

The Florida Rules of Civil Procedure have been amended by the Florida Supreme Court to remove the limit on the number of alternate jurors in civil trials. Effective January 1, 2017, Rule 1.431 has been amended to read “The court may direct that 1 or more jurors be impaneled to sit as alternate jurors in addition to the regular panel.” Currently the rule imposes a limit of two alternate jurors in a civil case. See, In re Amendments to Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, 199 So.3d 867 (Fla. 2016). This brings rule 1.431 into conformity with the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure which do not have a limit on the number of alternate jurors in a criminal trial. See, Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.280.

In addition, the amendment to Rule 1.431 provides that when a party believes that grounds exist for a post-trial legal challenge to a jury’s verdict in a civil case, the time to file a motion to interview a member of the jury to investigate any potential improprieties is increased from 10 to 15 days.

Add comment November 29th, 2016

Juror’s Mid-Trial Tweets Not Enough for New Trial

This month, in a case of first impression in Florida, the Fourth District Court of Appeal held that statements posted by a juror on social media during trial were insufficiently prejudicial to require a new trial. The juror posted a series of tweets on his Twitter account during jury selection and trial which included: a) “I got picked as a juror … I hate this s___. I’m so pissed, I even half assed all my answers and I dressed terrible;” b) Being a juror isn’t bad, people I’m working with are pretty cool. But I still hate the fact that I have to be here all day;” and c) Everyone is so money hungry that they’ll do anything for it.”

These tweets were clearly improper and in violation of the trial court’s repeated instructions to the jury. Nevertheless, after four post-trial hearings and a juror interview, the trial court took no action against the juror and denied the plaintiff’s motion for a new trial. The Fourth District affirmed, finding no abuse of discretion by the trial court.

In Murphy v. Roth, 2016 WL 5803658 (Fla 4th DCA Oct. 5, 2016), the court wrote, “There is no evidence that any of the other jurors saw, or had any discussions about, Juror 5’s tweets. Moreover, nothing in the plain language of Juror 5’s tweets discusses any facts specific to this case or the parties involved. Thus, it cannot be said that the trial court abused its discretion in concluding that Juror 5 misinterpreted the scope of the trial court’s instruction not to post about his jury service and that he did not intentionally violate the court’s order. While Juror 5’s tweets are potentially offensive on a number of levels, the trial court acted within its discretion to interview Juror 5, assess his credibility and, in doing so, deny Plaintiff’s motion for a new trial based thereon.”

 

 

Add comment October 31st, 2016

Have You Ever Been In Court?

Last week the Fourth District Court of Appeal reinstated a $4.9 million dollar jury verdict against State Farm Insurance Company in a UM case that had been set aside by the trial judge on the grounds of “juror non-disclosure” about the juror’s prior litigation history. In Gamsen v State Farm, 36 FLW D1630A (Fla 4th DCA 2011), the appellate court held that State Farm’s counsel had “quite simply” not asked pertinent questions during jury selection to elicit information about the juror’s litigation history. The court found a lack of “due diligence” by State Farm’s counsel. Additionally, the Court held that even if the proper questions had been asked by State Farm there was nothing in the juror’s past that was relevant or material to the pending rear-end collision UM case. The trial judge erred in setting aside the verdict.

This case once again emphasizes the importance of asking clear and straightforward questions during jury selection. Just because a trial judge may ask  jurors a generic question concerning whether they have “ever been in court for any reason” (as was done in Gamsen), trial counsel still has a duty to use due diligence and follow up with specific questions if litigation history is an area of concern during jury selection. As the appellate court noted here, just because a potential juror may have been involved in tenant evictions or domestic matters in the past, that does not necessarily mean the potential juror had actually “been in court” as was asked here, or that those matters are material to the pending case. Many cases and legal matters are resolved without ever actually going into a courtroom. In other words, “being in court” is not necessarily the same as being involved in litigation. There was insufficient evidence to conclude the two jurors in this case had failed to disclose anything about their litigation history because “no one bothered to ask them.”

Questions asked during jury selection should be short and clear. Voir dire questions should be planned well ahead of the start of the trial, and should be designed to explore the areas that truly concern your case. Think about your words from the juror’s perspective. “Being in court” may mean something different to a lay juror than it does to a lawyer or a judge. It is that way with all your questions. There is a lesson to be learned in Gamsen. It is a case worth reading and keeping in your Voir Dire notebook.

Add comment August 1st, 2011

“Prudent Probing” During Jury Selection

Fifth District Court of AppealA $900,000 plaintiff’s verdict in a rear-end collision case was reinstated last Friday by the Fifth District Court of Appeal even though two jurors had failed to disclose in voir dire that they had been injured and received medical treatment as a result of prior car accidents. During jury selection, plaintiff’s counsel asked THREE times whether anyone had been injured in a car accident, and specifically asked the entire panel “Have any of you ever been injured in any way, whether it be in a car accident, a collision, or a slip and fall?” Defense counsel’s voir dire was “very brief” and “did not mention the subject of prior accidents and injuries.” McCauslin v. O’Conner, 985 So. 2d 558 (Fla 5th DCA 2008).

Post-trial investigation by defense counsel revealed that two of the jurors had failed to disclose prior car accidents where they had been injured and received medical treatment. One of the jurors had even retained a lawyer and filed a claim just five years before the subject trial. Although there are other issues in the opinion, the appellate court suggested that because this was not a “highly participatory panel” and because plaintiff’s counsel’s questions were “broad,” that “prudent probing” by defense counsel “might well have resolved the problem entirely.” In other words, defense counsel should have reasked  questions about prior accidents and injuries if that was an area of concern, and not relied on the panel’s responses (or lack of responses) to the questions posed by plaintiff’s counsel.

This is a troublesome case because it suggests trial counsel can’t rely on the juror’s responses to the questions of opposing counsel (and presumably the court), and that if an issue is of concern to you in your case, that you had better forego a “brief” voir dire and reask the questions that are of concern to you, even if those questions and areas have already been explored by others. Failure to do so could result in an appellate court concluding that you did not use “due diligence” in your voir dire.

Add comment February 12th, 2008

“A Clear, Direct Question”

A jury in Miami awarded $3.9 million to the mother of a young woman who was killed by a drunk driver. After the verdict, the State Farm defense attorneys found out for the first time that the jury foreman’s father had been an alcoholic. They asked for a new trial alleging that the foreman had concealed this important information from them during jury selection. The trial court denied the request, and the appellate court affirmed the verdict holding that a key requirement to establishing  prejudicial concealment of information by a juror during voir dire is a “clear, direct question” requiring a response by the venire member. “No such question was posed here.” So the verdict was upheld.  Hood v. Valle, 979 So. 2d 961 (Fla 3rd DCA 2008).

But it’s not that simple. In Hood, two panels of jurors were questioned separately during voir dire. Apparently, the first panel was seated in the courtroom while the second panel was being questioned. And although there were questions asked of the second panel concerning family members with substance abuse problems — to which two members of that panel responded that their fathers had been alcoholics — no such question had been asked of the first panel from which the foreperson ultimately emerged. The first panel had earlier been asked general questions concerning whether “anything about drinking” might affect their consideration of the case, or whether they had any “strong feelings about people who drink?” But, as noted by the Court, they had never been asked the “clear, direct question” whether they had a parent who was or had been an alcoholic.

As a result of the inadequate questioning, the appellate court concluded that the first panel (sitting separately) had no reason to believe that they were to participate in the questioning of the second panel, or that they had some duty to supplement their own previous answers in response to later questioning. “No member of the first panel, including the subject juror, responded to questions addressed to the second panel.” Accordingly, the Court did not find any indication that the juror in question concealed information during the questioning, and therefore the jury’s verdict was affirmed.

Add comment January 17th, 2008

MMP Defense Verdict Thrown Out Due To Juror Concealment

dr-sohail-delfani.jpgA defense verdict in a medical malpractice case was set aside due to a juror’s failure to disclose nine prior civil lawsuits and a criminal case in response to a written jury questionnaire. Dr. Sohail Delfani, shown smiling in this picture, is probably not very happy with his lawyers who apparently failed to do a proper background check on the venire panel during jury selection in his case. It would be really hard to miss NINE prior civil cases. Or — consider this –maybe the lawyers DID perform a background check on the juror and maybe they made a tactical decision to keep this information about the juror’s prior lawsuits to themselves to use in a motion for new trial in the event their client suffered an adverse verdict. Risky move, but there are rumors flying around these days that some law firms are employing these questionable tactics. We’ll never know. But if I were Dr. Delfani, I sure would want to know!

One thing the readers of this blog do know though, is that in 2007 it is now imperative that trial lawyers have their staff or investigators perform background checks on jurors during voir dire. There is a wealth of information readily available on the internet these days. It has been over five years since the Supreme Court of Florida approved performing background checks on jurors in Florida trials in the case of Roberts v. Tejada, 814 So.2d 334 (Fla 2002), and yet verdict after verdict is reversed on appeal or post-trial as a result of juror nondisclosure. In this case, it was some considerably outrageous concealment.

The 3rd DCA opinion itself is pretty unremarkable. There was no way the verdict could stand. The jury’s FOREMAN denied in his own handwriting on his written questionnaire that he had ever been involved in any other lawsuits or claims, even though apparently he had been involved in nine civil cases and a criminal one. See, Delfani v. Cromer, 967 So. 2d 384 (Fla 3rd DCA 2007).

1 comment November 2nd, 2007

Erin – The Blogging Juror

ErinMeet Erin – the blogging juror. Right now she is serving on a jury somewhere. Or at least she was last Tuesday and Wednesday. Erin has a blog, and she posted her thoughts about jury duty on her blog last week while she was on the jury: “yeah somebody actually put me on a jury. I guess I will probably be juror number eight, blowing everybody’s minds with charisma and excessive knowledge of forensic psychology. remember the movie? twelve angry men? god i hope i get to be the foreman of this stupid jury. MADAM FOREWOMAN OF THE JURY! i can’t wait to decide the lives and deaths of men tomorrow.” Erin refers to herself as the “oak park mastermind,” and you can read more of Erin’s thoughts about her civic service (“the stupid jury isn’t over yet”) by visiting her blog. 

Erin’s blog post was sent to me last night by jury consultant, Amy Singer, who wrote “this blog post illustrates the necessity of online searching venire panelists for information.” Amy is obviously right, and this kind of stuff is happening more and more.  In 2005 I started asking every panel member in every voir dire whether they have a web site, a blog, or a page on myspace, facebook or any other website. Back then not many jurors did. But that has been rapidly changing. Business week reported that in 2005 there were 40,000 new blogs popping up each day (Blogs Will Change Your Business). I’m sure the number has only increased since then. In my opinion, these questions are no longer optional in a 2007 voir dire. You can learn more about a juror from visiting their blog or their page on facebook than you can from a month’s worth of questions in the courtroom.

Vesna Jaksic, who does excellent investigative writing on jury issues for The National Law Journal, wrote a piece on blogging jurors this past March (A New Headache for Courts: Blogging Jurors). I was quoted at that time as follows: “Any lawyer who does not inquire during jury selection about a juror’s Internet presence — whether it be a Web site, a blog, an account on MySpace or an account on Match.com — hasn’t done their job.” I think Erin’s post about her jury duty proves my point. I can’t wait to see if she was the Foreperson.

3 comments October 7th, 2007

More Juror Concealment – By Two Convicted Felons

Two jurors in a personal injury case concealed their prior felony convictions during jury selection. Convicted felons are not qualified to serve as jurors in Florida pursuant to Fla. Stat. 40.013. In a lengthy well-reasoned opinion, Companioni v. City of Tampa, 32 FLWD840a (Fla 2DCA 2007), the Second District Court of Appeal reinstated a substantial jury verdict for the plaintiff because the defendant was not able to show any “actual prejudice” as a result of the felons serving on a civil jury.

Continue Reading 1 comment April 1st, 2007

Juror Concealment – By A Lawyer!

A lawyer who was selected to serve on a jury failed to disclose a prior personal injury claim during jury selection resulting in the reversal of a plaintiff’s verdict at the request of a co-defendant. In Pereda v. Parajon, 957 So. 2d 1194 (Fla. 3DCA 2007), the Third District Court of Appeal found that the lawyer, who is a shareholder in a large firm, clearly concealed her personal injury history. The Court wrote that is was “difficult to imagine that she did not think the questions posed by counsel applied to her,” and that, as an officer of the court, she had a duty to disclose her prior automobile accident and claim.

The Court stopped short of determining whether the lawyer’s concealment was intentional, noting that “a juror’s nondisclosure need not be intentional to constitute concealment.” The Court reviewed the standard three prong test in determining whether juror concealment should result in a new trial. Citing Roberts v. Tejada, 814 So. 2d 334 (Fla. 2002), the Court held that the complaining party must show: (1) the information is relevant and material to jury service in the case; (2) the juror concealed the information during questioning; and (3) the failure to disclose the information was not attributable to the complaining party’s lack of due diligence. The Court found that all three prongs were clearly established in this case, and ordered a new trial.

Add comment March 28th, 2007