The most difficult decisions that a Court can make require it to balance the need for finality and procedural regularity against the possibility, however faint, of injustice. Any effort to draw a proper line between the two will never be perfect, nor will it be satisfactory to all involved. Nevertheless, the Court’s duty is to ensure that one side of the balance does not swallow the other.
Order and Reasons, Imperial Trading v Travelers, Federal District Judge Sarah Vance EDLA
When I ran into Imperial Trading v Travelers while checking for the latest on MRGO (nothing new there), it felt a bit like running into an old friend – one you left stranded at a parte. It wasn’t that I didn’t intend to follow up after posting good-ol-boys gone wild but Judge Vance in no mood for a parte.I just didn’t. With so much to cover in Katrina litigation here on the Coast, it just slipped my mind. So, with a better late than never, here’s the end of the story about the good-ol-boys parte.
Counsel and parties address the Court.
Court declines to sanction counsel.
I kid you not, that’s all it says. If you recall, counsel for both parties wanted to interview jurors. I’ll let Judge Vance tell what happened next, quoting from her Order and Reasons for denying the motion:
The specifics of the underlying dispute between plaintiffs and defendant have been detailed in numerous previous orders and need not be revisited here. In August of 2009, this Court presided over a six-day jury trial regarding an insurance dispute that arose from commercial property damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Before the conclusion of the trial, the Court prepared a special verdict form for the jury to use in deliberations and to fill in once they reached their verdict…
On August 13, the jury returned a verdict… After the foreman of the jury announced that there was a verdict, the Court had its deputy read the jury’s verdict verbatim into the record. This included the jury’s verdict as to each question on the special verdict form. The deputy then asked the jury, “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is this your verdict?” The jury replied with “yes.” The Court then asked counsel for the parties if either side wished to have the jury polled. Defense counsel asked the Court to poll the jury. Neither party disputes that each juror stated in open court that he or she agreed with the verdict read by the Court’s deputy. The Court then ordered that the verdict be made part of the record and excused the jury.
good-ol-boys gone wild but Judge Vance in no mood for a parte fills the gap between the Court excusing the jury and the show cause hearing – and Judge Vance’s eleven plus pages of citations for her reasons do likewise until she reaches the point just before her conclusion denying the motion:
The most difficult decisions that a Court can make require it to balance the need for finality and procedural regularity against the possibility, however faint, of injustice. Any effort to draw a proper line between the two will never be perfect, nor will it be satisfactory to all involved. Nevertheless, the Court’s duty is to ensure that one side of the balance does not swallow the other. In the absence of clerical error in entering a verdict into a verdict form, or improprieties of the nature described in Rule 606, any rule that a juror could impeach a sworn statement she made in open court agreeing with a verdict would open the door to the overturning of verdicts based on second thoughts, changed minds, improper influence, and hindsight.
There would be no principled boundaries for the application of such a rule, and no verdict would be truly final. Jury deliberations would become the fodder for fishing
expeditions launched by those disappointed with the unfavorable verdicts. Accordingly, plaintiffs have not shown good cause for leave to conduct juror interviews. There is no evidence that the supposed disagreement arose from a clerical error, and the affidavits they seek would be inadmissible under clear Fifth Circuit precedent because they seek to impeach a verdict that the jury twice stated under oath represents its unanimous verdict.
Finally, this matter could not be meaningfully or reliably inquired into without delving into the deliberations of the jury, which is forbidden by Rule 606.
Principled boundaries – Judge Sarah Vance, wise as an owl and smart as a fox.