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  • Jim Ferraro

An Unshakeable Witness

In my last post, I wrote about some of the dirty tricks the defense was employing during this trial, and how one of the defense lawyers had mentioned that some people had even offered to lie on behalf of Pine Island Farms. One of the suppliers, Sonya Sipes of LaBelle Plant World, was testifying.

I wanted to cut to the chase, so I asked her the most obvious question. “Ms. Sipes, have you ever offered to lie on behalf of Pine Island Farms with regard to this lawsuit?”

Gaebe objected to my question on the basis of relevancy and foundation, and that it was beyond the scope of rebuttal. But the judge had already ruled on that before allowing the witness to take the stand.

“Overruled,” Judge Donner said.

“Definitely not,” Sipes said in answer.

“Do you know Lynn Chaffin?” I asked.

“I don’t know him personally,” Sipes said. “I’ve only heard his name through the process of this lawsuit. The first time I heard his name was December 1995. We have never spoken,” Sipes testified.

I continued, “And when was the last time you had contact with any lawyers from Pine Island Farms prior to today?”

“Yesterday afternoon. I received two phone calls: one from Greg Gaebe and the other from Jack Wishart.”

Gaebe objected, but Judge Donner overruled, allowing Sipes to testify about the purpose of those two calls.

“Gaebe basically asked me if I would tell him why I was coming to court, and reminded me to tell the truth. He basically kept guessing why I was coming. I told him nothing and said I didn’t want to discuss it,” Sipes testified. “About an hour after that call, Jack Wishart called and told me he was the grower for Pine Island Farms. He, too, wanted [to] remind me to tell the truth, and he felt I knew nothing about the facts of the case. He said the other side was losing and there was nothing I could say in this case that would hurt their side. He said Gaebe might call me again and wanted me to know he was a nice man.”

I then asked, “And when was the first time you’ve spoken to me, Ms. Sipes?”

“This morning.”

I had no further questions.

Gaebe got his chance to cross-examine Sonya Sipes, but he wasn’t able to intimidate her or find any flaws in her story. Her testimony left a lot of room for doubt about Chaffin’s and Wishart’s credibility, if not the integrity of the entire Pine Island Farm legal team.

In my next post, I lead up to calling one of the last witnesses to testify in the case, a professor of epidemiology.

You’ll find a full narrative of the trial, the choice and use of witnesses in a trial, the parties involved and my own background, in my book, Blindsided, from which this blog post is adapted.


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