The “Creepy Jury Stalker” story, straight from my hometown, Syracuse, New York, has gone “viral”. The New York Law Journal covered it, and so did the American Bar Association Journal not to mention the Syracuse Post Standard.
Now an even more important news source is covering it: Me.
The backdrop to the story is a dental malpractice trial in Onondaga County Supreme Court. The insurer for the defendant dental practice was AIG, the same AIG which helped collapse the global economy in 2008. I guess their fifteen minutes of
fame infamy back then wasn’t enough, and they have come back to the trough for more.
But I digress. On with the story.
AIG paid for local Syracuse trial counsel to defend its insured defendant but also sent to trial a downstate “litigation lawyer”, Scott Greenspan, to “monitor” (according to him) the trial. He had no role in the trial itself but, as you’ll see, was an important “presence” at the trial.
At the conclusion of the trial, the jury rendered a verdict in the defendant’s (AIG’s insured’s) favor. Then, in a kind of “debriefing” session after trial, they happened to ask the judge who that “creepy” guy was who had been following them around everywhere during trial. The jurors described Greenspan, and complained that he would follow them into the elevators, into restaurants – wherever they went, he was close behind, or right next to them. Listening and watching. In other words, stalking. And though they were puzzled as to who he was or why he was doing this, they figured out he worked for the defendant because he was often seen talking to defendants’ trial lawyers.
Now the story gets very interesting because Judge Karalunas did a very brave thing. She flipped the verdict. She un-rung the bell. She ordered a new trial. She snatched victory from the claws of the defendant, and thus from AIG and its stalker.
Why was this brave? Because even though what AIG and its lawyer did were clearly wrong, reprehensible, even “creepy”, there was no evidence, at least none I have seen, indicating that the jury verdict was affected by the stalking. None of the jurors told anyone, as far as I can tell, “we voted to let defendant off the hook because we were afraid of the creep”.
Personal injury lawyers like me are just eating this story up. It feeds our love/hate relationship with insurance carriers. Insurance companies are the boogie man we all love to hate. Why do we hate them? Let me count the ways: They wrongfully disclaim coverage whenever they think they can get away with it, never mind years of faithful premium payments by their insureds; they give our seriously injured clients low-ball settlement offers; they advance ridiculous legal positions in court; they spy on our clients through tinted glass vans with zoom-in cameras, sometime right into their bedrooms; they make our clients submit to so-called “independent” medical exams by their biased medical doctors who routinely testify on their behalf that our clients’ injuries are fake, exaggerated and/or not causally related to the accident.
Now we get to add one more transgression to the insurance industry’s seemingly infinite list of sins: They send creepy lawyers out to stalk jurors at trial. And we love this story because for once the insurance carrier was actually punished for its misbehavior!
I hope Judge Karalunas’ decision will stand up on appeal. The insurance companies and their goons need to learn some lessons from the school of hard knocks.
Now let me tell you something about Judge Karalunas. I have argued many motions in front of her, but this summer I had the pleasure of tying a jury trial in front of her. She was extremely sharp, fair and always tried to do the right thing. She showed great respect for the lawyers, the parties, and especially the jury. I must emphasis this — she made it clear that she respects juries enormously — in my opinion more so than most judges — and will go out of her way to make sure the jury has an uplifting experience while performing its civic duty of rendering justice as best it can.
That’s probably why she was so harsh on the defendant here. She was clearly outraged — as we all should be — that an insurance company would stoop so low as to exert this type of psychological pressure on the jury.
She might be shocked at this behavior, but I’m not. I have become jaded to insurance company foul play. Ask any New York personal injury lawyer who has had this gig as long as I have and I think they will concur. Judge Karalunas hasn’t ever been a personal Injury litigator, so this was simply a wake up call for her. I applaud her courage and hope to see her affirmed.