Friday, June 17, 2011

Miller Time

The most exciting part of trying a case - which is coincidentally also the most exhausting - is that from the start of jury selection to the conclusion of your summation you are actively invested in the process.  Even when the case is someone else's (such as when in a civil action the plaintiff (person seeking damages) is putting on his case) you are actively engaged.  You are tuned into the questions being asked and the answers being given to see when and if you need to interject an objection and also to see what nuggets of information you can latch onto during cross-examination.  Invariably when I am on trial I spend more time sitting than I do standing but because it has the aura of activity associated with it, at day's end I am usually exhausted.....which sadly may say more about my physical conditioning than it does about the process.  Although in my defense may I point out that I have run a marathon.  Not well.  Not particularly quickly either but I have run one.

The most stressful part of trying a case is jury deliberations.  I am a bit of a control freak and there is no time when I feel less in control than during jury deliberations.  Yesterday in this space I wrote of a matter that I had spent this whole week trying and the fact that yesterday would be the final day on it.  It was indeed.  Much to my surprise the jury spent close to three hours deliberating the fate of my client and the man who alleged that my client injured him. 

At the risk of sounding horribly immodest, I did not think based upon the manner in which the case had been tried and the evidence had presented that the jury's decision was going to be particularly difficult to arrive at but there I was as we approached 4:00 p.m. pacing the hallway of the 4th floor of the Historic Court House in Newark outside Judge Vena's courtroom as I had been doing since shortly after 12:00 noon.  The longer it took, the more I was reminded that I had no control at all over the process.  I could not wish it to its conclusion.  I could do nothing.

Finally, shortly before 4:00 p.m. our jury of eight announced that a verdict had been reached.  Although there were six questions on the jury sheet they spent their time and energy focusing on just the first one:  Has the plaintiff proven by a preponderance of the credible evidence that the defendant was negligent?  In an unanimous 8-0 vote, they determined that he had not.  Thus endeth the deliberations.  Thus endeth the case. 

I do not spend a tremendous amount of time spreading joy and good cheer.  On occasion - and with good reason might I add - I have been called "grumpy".  Late yesterday afternoon upon returning to my office I got so spread a little cheer.  Mr. Miller (my client) - my favorite octogenarian Virginian (his sister occupies the Silver Medal podium) - is battling some really, really tough health issues.  Tough enough that we went to him in Virginia in late March to preserve his trial testimony out of concern that he could not come to us in Newark in mid-June.  I called him to tell him that the matter was over.  I informed him that a jury of his peers had exonerated him and that he had been held "not liable" for causing an accident that he had spent the past four and one-half years telling anyone who would listen to him that he had not caused. 

When he answered the phone I could hear the fatigue brought on by his age and his infirmities in his voice.  He told me that it has been a rough couple of weeks - in the throes of chemotherapy and all.  But when I reported to him what had happened, I think I heard him actually say, "Yea!" on the other end of the line.  And then he did the damnedest thing:  he thanked me.  He thanked me for all I had done for him and for taking care of him.  And then he said goodbye. 

Mr. Miller is one hell of a terrific old man.  I love the Hell out of him.  I am happier for him than I am even for me (and trust me I am plenty happy for me) as to the result in his case.  He has other battles to fight.  Battles that are far scarier than this one and far more important too. 

Here's to hoping that his luck of favorable verdicts continues.  He certainly deserves it.


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