Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Jury Reports

I had some fun last week discussing a New York court case in which a 25-year-old Swedish "former model" charged her boss, an alleged Wall Street titan, of sexual harassment.   

She said he coerced her to have sex with him on four occasions.  Then, she claimed, he fired her after finding that she had taken another lover to bed in her company-funded Tribeca apartment. She also said he defamed her online and in emails to her relatives and that he stalked her.

For her suffering she wanted $850 million.

The happy victim/victor
The jury in the case found that her former boss, now known as a "horndog financier," had defamed her, and awarded $2 million in compensatory damages and another $16 million in punitive damages.  (The horndog's lawyer noted that the jury did not find that he had assaulted the woman sexually.)  The former model seemed pleased even with the much smaller financial award.

After the trial, a juror explained the group's reasoning:

   "We felt she was hurt in everything that came out on social media
    and in the media.  We hope it will make companies and individuals       think twice before personally defaming someone else."

In short, the jury wanted to "send a message."  

There is some real irony here.

The former model resented being defamed, but then filed a ridiculously expensive lawsuit that led to repetition of the defamatory statements in tabloid newspapers on two continents.  

There are other, more discreet ways to deal with these things.

First, there are libel laws that protect private persons from malicious and false statements. The former model made herself a public figure; as a result, the horndog's malicious statements were broadcast much more broadly than he could have managed on his own.

Second, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission exists to investigate and prosecute complaints like the former model's.  In addition, the state of New York, like most states, has a civil rights agency with a similar mission.

If the former model had contacted either of these organizations, her issues would have been handled without all the public hoohaw.   

The former model did not to do this.  She chose to make a federal case out of the matter.  She was happy to publicize her grievances.  What she wanted was money.

Now she has $18 million, assuming an appeal does not vacate the jury's decision or cut it substantially.

She does not have my sympathy. 

Neither does the horndog.  More about him later.

My Jury

Regular readers know that I spent much of last week as a juror on a civil matter in New Jersey Superior Court.

There were long days of frankly boring testimony that depicted a single situation from a variety of viewpoints.  According to the judge, we jurors would be asked to decide on the facts of the matter.

I will not go into details, but I did pay attention to the witnesses and I spent much of the weekend thinking about what I had heard.  I had many questions, and I reported for duty this week eager to discuss the case with my fellow jurors. 

But when we assembled Monday, the judge announced that a settlement had been reached over the weekend and that we were dismissed.  

The judge said he could not tell us the nature of the settlement.  He said that our attendance during testimony had been helpful.  He did not say how.

I'm glad it's over, but it seems in retrospect like a waste of jurors' time. 

The only upside is that I cannot be called again for jury duty for three years. 

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