Dealing with Objections and Getting Things Underway
The Castillo-DuPont case had gotten underway, and I was dealing with initial objections that the DuPont lawyers had thrown our way, regarding a video of Johnny Castillo in daily life, a photo of Johnny that showed Johnny’s eyelids and the evidence that Benlate was the only fungicide used before November 10, 1989.
This third objection took a lot of work on my part to resolve. DuPont argued that to put up anything that suggested this would be extremely prejudicial, and no matter what they did to try to dispel that characterization would be unsuccessful. DuPont’s lawyers went on to argue they didn’t know who wrote that statement, even though it came from the business records of Pine Island Farms.
Typically, records kept in the ordinary course of business are admissible.
Furthermore, I had substantial evidence to support this statement, from the Benlate purchase records to the testimony of Lynn Chaffin. In fact, they had a time line noting when they planted tomatoes that supported this statement. Before I could continue stating why I thought this piece of evidence should be admissible, the judge denied their motion.
Score another one for the plaintiff.
At this point, Gaebe asked, “Has anyone heard from the juror we’re waiting for?”
“She’s 10 blocks away. We’re talking her in to the courthouse now. Let’s take a 15-minute recess until she gets here. We are adjourned,” said Judge Donner.
The atmosphere in the courtroom was very tense. The air was so thick you could cut it with a dull butter knife. It was well known that no chemical company had yet been held responsible for a birth defect, which made this trial even more dramatic to all of those involved.
Court TV had its cameras set up and ready to begin daily coverage of the trial. I wasn’t sure if anyone would watch, but I knew a positive outcome in this case could potentially impact millions of people around the world. There was a lot at stake, and that fact in and of itself certainly made for good television, especially for this up-and-coming cable channel.
The judge addressed the courtroom, which was packed. “Ladies and gentlemen, in just a minute the jury will be coming in.” Everyone involved in the case from all sides was present.
“Counsel, the jury is coming in,” said Ray, the judge’s clerk, as the six-member panel and the alternates made their way into the courtroom.
“Will the jury please remain standing? The rest of you may be seated,” Judge Donner said as the jury was sworn in.
“You have now been sworn in as the jury for this case,” said the judge. “This is a civil case involving a disputed claim or claims among the parties. Those claims and other matters will be explained to you later. By your verdicts, you will decide the disputed issues of fact. I will decide the questions of law that arise during the trial, and before you retire to deliberate at the close of the trial, I will instruct you on the law you are to follow and apply in reaching your verdicts. In other words, it is your responsibility to determine the facts and to apply the law to those facts. The function of the jury and the function of the judge are well defined and do not overlap. This is one of the fundamental principles of our system of justice.”
Judge Donner carefully laid out her expectations for everyone, making it extremely clear her patience for the theatrics that had gone on during the pretrial and Frye hearings had run thin, and she was not going to tolerate game-playing from either side.
She also instructed the members of the jury on what they could expect during the trial, reminding them that they were not to discuss the case among themselves or with anyone else, nor were they to permit anyone to say anything to them or in their presence about the case. Attorneys, witnesses, or any other parties associated with the case were especially off-limits until the deliberations were finished, so as to avoid the appearance of anything improper.
I could feel the anticipation building and the air in the courtroom intensifying with every word the judge spoke. I think everyone there could feel it, especially with the television cameras present and so much at stake.
In my next post, I recount the opening statements.
You can find a lot more about the lead-up to and the running of this case in my book, Blindsided, from which this blog post is adapted.