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odd one out

Before and during the trial, I’d heard of several cases where jurors who were in the minority were pressured by yelling and screaming jurors to change their opinions. I had related one of these stories I’d just heard on the radio to one woman in my jury pool early on before we were picked. I couldn't believe this had happened. She turned to me with watery eyes and said, “That happened to me.” Yikes. How common was this, I wondered.

During the trial I heard about two jurors on Michael Jackson’s case who still thought he was guilty but gave their verdict to acquit. I did not want to be in that position, giving one verdict but then feeling otherwise. Juror’s remorse? I thought that I’d probably be in the majority anyway, it was feeling so obvious. But just in case, I knew that I just could not vote against my conscience because the pain of living with myself afterwards was more than the pain of enduring a nasty jury.

We took our first vote and found we were at 6-3 that the company was not guilty of negligence. I was one of the 3. The other two admitted they were not strong and after discussions changed their vote. Uh-oh, I’m in That Position.

I could not in good conscience change it though. We took a break. We continued discussions. The company just looked very sloppy to me. I thought it was expected that your average company at that time would’ve kept better records than that, they would have been more responsible about the pit, they wouldn’t have called it an evaporation pond when it really was a seepage pit, that they would’ve kept better records about where they buried waste, that they would’ve been more aware of the rules and regulations and regulatory organizations of the time. But I grew up with an excessively detail-oriented father (ok, neurotic, obsessive-compulsive, etc.) and I think I am very much that way myself. I’ve been paid good money to apply these characteristics in my career. It feels normal to me.

But everyone else on the jury felt otherwise and explained such. My insides cringed at realizing the extent of the disregard for our environment and good business practices that had probably existed for decades. I had to re-examine my position. They did not push me and in fact encouraged me to voice anything that came up for me. I raised the issue with one witness who worked for a large chemical company who said this small company should’ve known about the permits they needed to discharge into the ground. They all thought that the prosecution should’ve shown a company the size of the one being sued behaving the same way as the large one. I had to agree. This jury did not intimidate anyone to vote one way or the other, even after the earlier fiasco around our decision of when to start deliberations. After a while, I could not in good conscience continue to hold my previous opinion. In fact several people went out of their way to voice encouragement for everyone to express their true opinions. Even near the end, one person said, “I know I’ve voted all these ways but the end result just doesn’t feel right.” And we reviewed it together again.

In the end, I thought, what if when I walk out of here after giving this verdict of no damages, what if I find out that this company is just scum? Will I feel ok about this verdict? Will I be able to justify it in my mind or to anyone who asks? Yes – this company had behaved reasonably. The plaintiffs did not show serious enough problems and they didn’t exhibit enough effort to mitigate the problem.

I needed to see something like the plaintiffs’ timeline in dealing with the company around the cleanup. Show me where the company had been totally blowing them off. Show me the timeline. Show me the paperwork where you’ve asked for data, meetings, responses from the company that are reasonable and show me where they ignored you over time. Show me how other companies of this size had lined pits, had the right permits. It definitely smelled of plaintiffs going after deep pockets. However, I was perfectly fine in ignoring that if I felt the company had been negligent.

I’m so glad I didn’t know anyone. It made it so much easier to make a decision I can live with.

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