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Trials & Litigation

Judge jails in-house lawyer who complained in email about being selected for jury service

Posted Apr 7, 2014 10:30 AM CDT
By Martha Neil

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An Atlanta in-house lawyer was jailed for 24 hours by a Georgia judge for contempt after she complained to him in an email about being selected for jury service in a personal injury case.

Wilma Elizabeth Beaty was also fined $500 by DeKalb State Court Judge Dax Lopez after she sent him the email. In the email, she said she would "blame" the plaintiff in the civil case for the work she would have to do on nights and weekends during the trial to keep up with her in-house job, says the Daily Report (sub. req.) in a lengthy article.

The judge called Beaty's conduct "unconscionable" in a March 26 contempt order, ruling that she had failed to answer questions "truthfully and completely" during voir dire, among other issues, and violated not only her duties as a juror but Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys. They prohibit ex parte communications and conduct that could disrupt a trial, and Lopez said he would be forwarding his findings in the contempt matter to the State Bar of Georgia.

Lopez also said he was "astounded by the lack of remorse" exhibited by the University of Texas law graduate's attitude during a contempt hearing, as well as her "general disdainful attitude toward the court and the trial process," the Daily Report article continues. Beaty represented herself at the hearing.

Attorney Charles McAleer of Decatur represented the plaintiff in the case in which Beaty was to serve as a juror. The plaintiff was seeking compensation for a back injury suffered in an auto accident. After Beaty was taken off the jury, McAleer's client got a $12,000 jury award. He had rejected a $100,000 settlement offer prior to trial.

McAleer said courtroom observers were stunned by the judge's decision to jail and fine Beaty, noting that she was held by the court "to a much higher standard" than ordinary jurors because she is a lawyer.

"I've never seen anything like it. A few other people in the courtroom said the same thing," McAleer told the Daily Report. "We were all pretty shocked."

Beaty, who works for PakLab, declined to comment when contacted by the Daily Report.

Her email, which was attached to the contempt order, implied that Beaty had told the court she could not focus on the case and be impartial, but the judge disputed that in his order.

"Although you advised work is not an excuse, the fact of the matter is that I am the only lawyer at my small company and have responsibility for HR and legal," Beaty says at one point in the email. "We are in the midst of contract discussions with our largest customer which will not be on hold until this personal injury case is tried. So, I will now have to work in the evenings on breaks and at night to 'catch up' on my work, including now trying to reschedule a call for our largest customer, representing 29% of the company's business, for 4:00 a.m. to accommodate the trial and the European attorney's schedule to hopefully negotiate a contract our customer wants concluded this week … all of which I blame on the plaintiff."

In conclusion, she states: "I am certain this case is important to the parties, but my client's matters are important to me and I am simply unable to prioritize this case—which appears should have been settled and no doubt was attempted to be settled—higher than my own client's matters."

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