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Illinois Appeals Court Upholds Verdict Despite Blogging Juror’s Observations

Posted Nov 1, 2011 6:00 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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An Illinois juror helping decide whether the Metra commuter railroad was negligent in the death of a blind man couldn’t resist blogging about the case, spurring an appeal and an analysis of her revelations.

Chicago freelance writer Eve Bradshaw wrote six blog entries at The Green Room, the Chicago Tribune reports. Defense lawyers had argued the trial court erred when it refused to question jurors to learn whether problems revealed in the blog posts had compromised the jury process. An Illinois appeals court disagreed in a Sept. 30 opinion (PDF), however, and upheld a $4.75 million award to the blind man’s widow.

Bradshaw didn’t identify the plaintiff or the defendant in her blog posts until after the verdict. Some entries showed that she was keeping an open mind. She said that jurors were “guarding our objectivity fiercely until the last syllable of testimony has been uttered.” And Bradshaw wrote that she cautioned another juror who said, “Well, all that’s left now is deciding how much.”

“I looked at her in disbelief,” Bradshaw wrote. “ 'Lalalalalalala!' I singsonged, holding my fingers in my ears. 'You cannot talk that way, Juror L,' I said, 'You have to wait until ALL the evidence is in and we've heard from ALL the witnesses.' " Another juror also told Juror L she must wait to make up her mind.

The defense targeted other blog content, however, in which Bradshaw wrote that she talked to her husband about the case, without disclosing details, and the jurors were having a difficult time refraining from discussing the case before it was over. The lawyers also pointed out that the chastised juror appeared to have made up her mind on liability before deliberations.

The appeals court said the blog posts show that jurors were keeping an open mind and even chastised the juror who expressed a premature opinion on liability. Nor was there any evidence that Bradshaw’s husband had offered extraneous information that influenced deliberations, the court said.

“The blog entries on which the defendants rely do not indicate that premature deliberations resulted in a jury that was biased when it commenced its deliberations or that the jury’s actual deliberations and verdict were affected by any discussions during trial,” the appeals court said. “In fact, the entries indicate just the opposite.”

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