In what sounds like a lawyer joke, yesterday the Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed a defense verdict in favor of two physicians in a medical malpractice case because a juror left the courtroom, walked into a bar, and astonishingly told a total stranger:
1 That he “wanted to play the judicial system,”
2, That he had required the plaintiff to prove her case beyond a reasonable doubt, not just by the proper standard in civil cases of a preponderance of the credible evidence bias, and
3. That he was prejudiced against African Americans (like the plaintiff).
The juror had failed to disclose the above biases in the voir dire stage of the trial when injury lawyers question potential jurors about their beliefs in an effort to obtain an impartial jury panel. And as if that were not bad enough, the juror lied about his criminal convictions and was even on probation.
The stranger turned out to be an attorney, who promptly notified the trial court. However the trial court denied the plaintiff’s motion for new trial, and the court of appeals upheld the trial court despite the juror’s flagrant conduct.
On appeal, the Oklahoma Supreme Court, in granting a new trial for juror misconduct, wrote that it had to reverse the verdict due to “the shocking circumstances of this rogue juror … this is an absolute factual anomaly that we hope is never to be seen again in Oklahoma jurisprudence.”
As a Fort Worth personal injury lawyer, I have tried many cases to a jury over the last 31 years and know how difficult, if not impossible, it is to obtain a truly impartial panel. And the Texas Supreme Court has made it much easier for biased jurors to be kept on the jury. That is unfortunately one of the drawbacks of our jury system. But it is still the greatest system of deciding cases in the world.