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Legal Ethics

No Ban on Copying Juror Notes

Posted Aug 13, 2007 8:36 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A federal appeals court has overturned a sanction of more than $14,000 against two lawyers who copied jury notes at the end of a case.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in Richmond, Va., said there was no bad faith nor abuse of the litigation process since the case was over, the National Law Journal reports. "We have found no rule or law that makes sanctionable the viewing or copying of jurors' notes," the panel wrote in an unpublished opinion (PDF) published last Tuesday.

The lawyers, D. Alan Thomas and John Southerland of Huie, Fernambucq & Stewart in Birmingham, Ala., had successfully represented Ford Motor Co. in a rollover case. They saw the notes on a jury easel after returning to the room to collect exhibits, as instructed by a court clerk. Thomas told Southerland, an associate, to make copies.

Thomas, later apologized, saying he wanted copies for personal development rather than litigation advantage. The trial judge had imposed the sanction, saying the lawyers’ conduct violated a rule against contact with jurors.

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