Thursday, January 18, 2007

Court of Appeals holds new trial should have been granted because of juror misconduct

In Church of the Holy Cross v. Orkin, the Court of Appeals reversed a trial court's decision denying a mistrial based on juror misconduct. The case centered on whether Orkin breached a contract with the church by allowing a termite infestation. The offending conduct of the juror was as follows:

the alleged misconduct, which the alternate juror later confirmed under oath, consisted of the offending juror "early in the trial . . . question[ing] aloud the instructions that she was not to talk about the case . . . because everybody knew what was going on"; commenting to the other jurors "that everyone knew that the historic people 'have money' and are simply trying to get someone else to 'pay their bills'"and "that 'old buildings fall down' simply because of age"; telling the other jurors "that she did not know why she had to hear both sides of the case and that she had discussed it with her mother who reaffirmed that the historic people have money and should clean up their own mess" remarking to the other jurors that she had talked with a painter friend who told her that walls could collapse due to hidden termite damage; declaring to the other jurors "that they should tear down the church and bring in a double wide";

The prohibition against jurors discussing a case until the trial judge submits it to them for deliberation and decision involves a matter of fundamental fairness. The prohibition is meant to insure that jurors remain impartial throughout the entire trial and that they hear both sides of a controversy before making up their minds and rendering a verdict. Based on the misconduct, fundamental fairness was denied and thus a new trial should have been granted.

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