Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Injustice

M. Gerald Schwartzbach has returned to represent Robert Blake. On Monday, March 27, he filed a 48-page motion asking the court to dismiss the civil trial verdict on the grounds of juror misconduct.

The allegations in the motion were grave. According to affidavits, one juror, Paula Severson, failed to disclose that her daughter was serving time for murder. One juror said he did not hear well and wished to be excused. According to that juror, the foreman, Bob Horn, told him he had to remain on the panel or he would cause a mistrial. The same man said he was intimidated into changing his verdict to liable.

In another juror’s affidavit, two jurors, Tony Alda and Demetrius Hall, said they didn’t like Robert Blake even before the case was presented.

More claims in the motion cited that jurors discussed evidence that was not presented at trial. They also discussed the case outside the jury room, despite Judge David M. Schacter repeatedly telling them not to.

The list of indiscretions goes on. Jurors rationalized that because Schwartzbach had not represented Blake in the civil case, Schwartzbach must have questioned Blake’s innocence. Other jurors argued that the Bible supported the verdict against Blake. One alternate juror participated in the discussions.

Early in deliberations, the jury asked the judge if they could reword the question, “Did Robert Blake intentionally cause the death of Bonny Lee Bakley?” They wanted to change the phrase “intentionally cause” to something else. What else was not disclosed, but there may have been a desire from some jurors to find Blake negligent.

After delivering the verdict, jurors told defense lawyers that they had made up their minds on hearing closing arguments, something Schacter, and the jury instructions, told them not to do. They said they just didn’t like Blake – “They hated him,” Eric Dubin, the plaintiff’s attorney, told the press.

The motion also states that the jurors were disgusted over the acquittals of OJ Simpson and Michael Jackson and wanted “to send a message that rich people and celebrities can’t get away with causing someone’s death.” It was clear from Schwartzbach’s motion that the jury had prejudged the case before they had heard the evidence.

The case will most likely be declared a mistrial. According to the American Judicature Society’s website, a judge can declare a mistrial after a verdict is rendered for these causes:

  • inadvertently or purposely lying in response to voir dire questions or questionaires

  • improper contacts with participants in the case or other non-participants; discussing the case outside deliberations

  • misbehavior that interferes with thought processes, such as sleeping, drinking or taking drugs

  • receiving information not presented in court, through visiting the crime scene, conducting experiments, researching, or reading or hearing news reports

  • refusing to participate, coercing other jurors, or making prejudicial statements
    improper mechanisms for arriving at a verdict, agreeing to ignore the law, or arriving at damages in a civil suit by averaging figures from each juror

  • taking a bribe or establishing a personal relationship with one of the trial participants


On April 3, Dubin filed an opposition to Schwartzbach’s motion citing five jurors he interviewed claimed there was no misconduct and that Blake received a “fair trial and a fair verdict.”

One wonders how the jurors can claim fairness when they were willing to mete out justice to Blake because of what they perceived to be the wrongful actions of other juries. And what does the Bible say about appointing oneself to exact God’s revenge? How does one swear to uphold justice in one breath and lie in voir dire the next?

If the jurors said they feared deviating from the beliefs of their peers, family and friends, or from mainstream opinion press, or that they feared being called “stupid” on national television, as Steve Cooley did to the crimal trial jurors, their behavior might almost be excusable. Instead, they brought an agenda to their jury service.

It took a huge amount of courage for the criminal trial jurors to find Blake not guilty. It seems the civil jurors could not even find enough courage to leave their prejudice at home.

Judge Schacter will decide the truth of the allegations and weigh them against the legal principles of misconduct in a hearing on April 7.

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