Wednesday, August 08, 2007, 6:55 PM

Fourth Circuit Reverses Strange Sanction Against Lawyers Who Copied Jurors' Deliberative Notes

A strange ruling from the U.S. District Court for the N.D. W. Va. was reversed today by the Fourth Circuit. A jury rendered a defense verdict for Ford Motor Co. in a products case. After the jury was discharged, the courtroom clerk asked Ford's defense counsel to remove exhibits from the jury room. When they went to the jury room, they saw an easel with a flip chart reflecting the jurors' views on the evidence presented in the case. They copied the flip chart for assistance in future cases. After a law clerk tattle taled, the judge sanctioned them, concluding they acted in bad faith. The judge concluded (weirdly) that counsel violated a local rule prohibiting counsel from communicating with jurors about their deliberations, as well as FRE 606(b), which generally prohibits the use of juror testimony occurring during deliberations to challenge a verdict. The sanction totaled nearly $15,000. The Fourth Circuit reversed--and took a jab at the courtroom clerk, concluding that the "problem could have been avoided had the clerk of court properly performed his responsibility of retrieving the evidence and exhibits from the jury room and returning them to the attorneys in the courtroom." Ouch.

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