Whose Prejudice Is This Anyway?

August 24, 2007

The Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed a breach of contract case for failure to excuse a Juror Green for cause who said she  had a “bad taste” from having been sued in the past which would “probably” cause her to view the case with prejudice one way or another. The problem was — Green never did say against whom she would be prejudiced, and none of the attorneys ever followed up during voir dire to find out, and no one ever bothered to ask her whether she could set her “negative feelings” aside. At one point during jury selection the trial judge asked the panel as a whole whether there was anyone on the panel who would not have the parties starting off on the same starting line, like in a race, but none of the prospective jurors responded verbally.

The 4th DCA applied the reasonable doubt standard and reversed the verdict. The Court noted that “while the juror was silent when the court advised the panel that both parties are entitled to ‘start off at the same line’ and inquired of the panel whether they could wait until ‘the end of the race’ to deliberate and determine what the verdict should be, reasonable doubt is not overcome by a juror’s silence as to a question asked on the entire panel.” Four Wood Consulting, LLC v. Fyne, 981 So. 2d 2 (Fla 4th DCA 2007)

Interestingly, the Court also observed: “We recognize that, here, the trial court and the appellees’ counsel may well have been right in surmising that the juror really ‘did not want to be there’ and ‘wanted off this jury.’ But, close issues as to juror bias are resolved in favor of excusing the juror, rather than leaving a doubt.”