JUDGE CAN’T INTERVIEW JURY AFTER VERDICT, UNLESS THERE’S GOOD CAUSE TO BELIEVE MISCONDUCT OCCURRED, RULES NEW JERSEY SUPREME COURT. AND EVEN THEN, ONLY WITH THE LAWYERS PRESENT.
Can a judge interview a jury after it reaches a verdict? The issue arose after a recent sexual harassment case. The jury awarded a medical assistant $12,500. The assistant claimed that the doctor she worked for made sexual comments to her and touched her inappropriately. She also claimed that her employer fired her because of her complaints about the doctor.
After the verdict, the judge decided to hold an informal meeting with the jury. In the meeting, one juror claimed that the doctor did not place his hand on the Bible before he testified. The doctor demanded that the verdict be set aside because the jury might have been improperly influenced by the juror’s observation.
The doctor claimed that he did not place his hand upon the Bible for religious reasons. In his religion, to place one’s left hand upon a holy book would be a sign of disrespect.
An appeals panel upheld the verdict, with one judge dissenting. The doctor appealed further, to the New Jersey Supreme Court.
The New Jersey Supreme Court sent the case back to a new trial judge. The new judge will have to determine whether the juror’s observation improperly influenced the jury to find against the doctor.
The Supreme Court banned judges from conducting post-verdict jury interviews in the future. However, the court allowed an exception. If there is good cause to believe that something improperly influenced the jury, an interview may be held. But not otherwise. And only with the lawyers for both sides present.
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