Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Twelve Not So Angry Men (and Women)

From 2012 05 Dallas

Yesterday, I reported what I was up to all last week. Called to jury duty on Monday in Dallas County civil court, I was selected and served until Friday before the jury reached a verdict and was discharged by the judge.

For those interested in the case (DC-10-02003), I'll summarize after the jump.

The lawsuit was over a real estate refinance gone bad. Plaintiffs wanted to refinance a large apartment complex. There was a lien against the property that had to be released before the refinance could close. Plaintiffs thought they had a deal to release the lien. Lien holder signed escrow instructions to the title company to that effect. Title company informed plaintiffs, but failed to inform plaintiffs that the deal was in the form of escrow instructions, which can be unilaterally revoked. Then, a week before closing, the lien holder withdrew from the purported deal. A new deal was reached (with more money for the lien holder) and the refinance closing occurred. Later, plaintiffs sued the title company for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, deceptive trade practices, and negligent misrepresentation. Plaintiffs also sued the lien holder for repudiating the original agreement to release the lien.

My impressions?

All three parties were victims. The lien holder was out some money owed (hence, the lien). Plaintiffs thought they had a deal, only to see lien holder repudiate it (hence, the lawsuit). And the title company was between a rock and hard place (maybe because of its own carelessness), liable to be sued by one party or the other no matter what they did.

Dry, dry, dry. Three parties. Three lawyers. More lawyers called to testify. Verbose, verbose, verbose.

Lawyer fees were easily three times the cost of the money in dispute. During jury selection, I thought to myself, why don't all these parties just settle? Maybe I should have given voice to my thoughts and I would have been excused. But I didn't feel biased for or against any one party. I was equally biased against all three, so I kept quiet.

Plaintiffs were probably going to lose this case no matter what. The jury saw the lien holder as the real victim. He was owed money by the plaintiffs; the jury wasn't going to find fault with him trying to recover what was rightfully owed him. As for the title company's role, the jury felt that the plaintiffs had lots of lawyers and it was up to them to monitor everything that was happening leading to closing.

So, who won? Well, the jury never had to answer that question. The jury was given a 27 page charge with 53 questions to answer. The questions were all of the kind, was there an agreement?, if so, was it complied with?, if not, was non-compliance excused? The jury sympathized with the lien holder and title company, so the answers to those 53 questions were generally aligned with their interests, at least when it came to the bottom line of excusing any non-compliance with any agreement. So, it's safe to say the lien holder and title company were much happier with the verdict than the plaintiffs were.

One last point. Civil trials don't need to have a unanimous verdict. Ten jurors in agreement on all questions are enough to reach a verdict. In this trial, the verdict was 11-1. Who was the one juror who didn't sign the verdict? Yours truly, the foreman of the jury!

I won't go into my differences with the rest of jury, but I will say that the other jurors were all intelligent, reasonable, cooperative and a pleasure to work with.

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