Monday, August 13, 2007

Fourth Circuit reverses sanctions for lawyer copying juror notes after jury had been discharged

In Thomas v. Schatz, the district court reprimanded and censured Alan Thomas and Isaac Southerland, trial attorneys for Ford Motor Company, for looking at and copying jurors' noted in the jury room after the jury had been discharged. The two lawyers were in the jury room to retrieve items introduced into evidence. The district court concluded that the lawyers had violated the spirit, if not the letter,of Local Rule 47.01, which prohibits an attorney from“communicat[ing] or attempt[ing] to communicate with any member of the jury regarding the jury’s deliberations or verdict without obtaining an order allowing such communication.” . The court determined that by reading and copying the jury’s notes on the easel, the lawyers essentially communicated with the jury without the court’s permission.

The panel disagreed, noting that "Local Rule 47.01 is aimed at preventing lawyers, without permission of the court, from bothering jurors after they have completed their service by writing them or attempting to talk to them." The court noted that it had found no rule or law that makes sanctionable the viewing or copying of jurors’ notes after the case has ended. Thus, the sanctions were reversed.

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