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  • Jim Ferraro

Helping the Jurors Understand the Case

Judge Donner had spent a considerable amount of time explaining the evidence in the Castillo-DuPont case to the jurors. She continued to lay out the case for them, in clear and easy-to-follow terms.

This wasn’t going to be a complete slam dunk for the Castillos, but I felt we had laid out a really good and convincing argument and a relatively easy formula to help the jury calculate damages if they agreed that the Castillos were due monetary compensation.

This was a big and important case—one that wasn’t important only to my clients but also important to the planet. We were asking for big money, somewhere around $25 million in damages. Whether we would get the full amount would be determined in the jury room. It was pretty much out of our hands at this point. There was certainly one skunk in the jury box I had to worry about—that damned Realtor—but even so, I felt pretty good as Judge Donner gave the jury their final instructions before dismissing them.

“You are not allowed to leave the jury room,” said the judge. “If you have a question for the court, write it out on a piece of paper and have your jury foreperson sign his or her name. Knock on the door, and we will come open it slightly, just enough to take that piece of paper from you. There will be no other kind of communication with the jury until it has reached a verdict. When you have reached a verdict, knock on the door, and someone will come to the door. Have your foreperson say, ‘We have reached a verdict,’ through the closed door. We will assemble as we are today and come knock on the door to get you so your verdict may be published,” said Judge Donner.

“One other thing: within ten minutes or so, Ray will be bringing you the exhibits,” said the judge. “The evidence is the province of the jury. This means you have a right to it. You will have everything. A television has also been set up in the jury room with a VCR. If you have any problems with that VCR or TV, please follow the same protocol by knocking and passing Ray a note. We will resolve any technical issues,” said Judge Donner.

“If there aren’t any other issues to go over,” she said, “please leave your jury instructions in the courtroom, as there will be one signed copy awaiting you in the jury room. Thank you.”

When she concluded her instructions, Judge Donner dismissed the jury to start its deliberations. The jury had put in a grueling 7½-hour day and was now confined to a small, hot room with broken air-conditioning and no blinds on the windows.

Someone was supposed to install a set of blinds early that morning, but it never happened. The room was unbearable—hardly ideal conditions for the type of deliberations that would be taking place. The heat was stifling. Even with the windows open, the air was stagnant and thick.

After the jury retired from the courtroom, Greg Gaebe brought up a concern to Judge Donner about a video deposition of Wishart and Chaffin in which they both had used some unsavory language to describe the workers on the farm.

He wanted to edit out the parts where they referred to the African American workers as “coloreds.” Judge Donner had already allowed them to take out Wishart’s and Chaffin’s references to Mexicans and Haitians, so this wasn’t adding up. The discussion got rather heated, because there were various edited versions of this same deposition floating around as evidence.

Judge Donner gave Gaebe the opportunity to get the tape edited one last time and to submit it into final evidence as exhibit 19. The only portion of the video that would exist would be dialogue about growing tomato plants.

In my next post, I recount the deliberations – and the waiting.

I’d love to hear from you. Have you ever had to weigh a mountain of evidence in order to arrive at a just conclusion, one that would satisfy everyone? What was the result? Thank you for sharing!


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