U.S. District Court in New Jersey Precludes Trial Counsel from Responding to Juror who Reached Out to Explain what Happened During Deliberations

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Following a jury verdict in favor of plaintiffs in an employment discrimination case, one of the defense counsel received the following message through the firm’s website:

“Hello, This message is for Mr. Carmagnola and not for legal advice. As a member of the jury for the Montone vs. Jersey City case, I was wondering if you’d like to know a few details that pushed the jury to decide in favor of Montone and the Astriab plaintiffs. I know if I spent as many years as you did on a case I’d want to know what happened!”

The Court held that defense counsel was prohibited from responding to the former jury by Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) and the Court’s Local Civil Rule 47.1(e), which provides that attorneys may not “directly or indirectly interview, examine or question any juror… during the pendency of the trial or with respect to the deliberations or verdict of the jury in any action, except on leave of Court granted upon good cause shown.”

The Court specifically noted that: “The purpose of Rule 606 is to preserve the privacy of jury deliberations as well as the integrity and finality of the verdict.”

Although the juror’s e-mail did not raise “extraneous” or “outside” influences excepted in Rule 606(b)(2), the defendant nevertheless advanced two broad arguments in favor of responding to the juror, both of which were rejected.

First, the Court found that the prohibition “does not turn on whether counsel or the juror initiates post-trial communication. Rather, the rule broadly states that attorneys are not permitted to ‘directly or indirectly interview, examine or question’ jurors regarding their deliberation or verdict. It is not possible for counsel for Defendant Troy to respond to the juror’s email without violating this stricture.”

Secondly, the Court rejected the argument that such prohibition infringed upon the First Amendment rights of the juror. “The Court imposes no restrictions or limitations on First Amendment rights, including the juror’s right to send unsolicited post-trial emails. The juror’s constitutional rights do not vitiate, however, the prohibition on counsel…. As such, while unsolicited, sua sponte post-trial contact from members of the jury is not barred under the Rules, this Court will bar under these Rules any response by counsel for either party to such unsolicited communication.”

 

Montone v. City of New Jersey, No.06-280, 2018 WL 3377158 (D.N.J. July 11, 2018).

 

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