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Friday, July 07, 2006

Ind. Decisions - "Judges must outline reasons for overruling juries"

"Judges must outline reasons for overruling juries" is the headline to a story by AP reporter Charles Wilson published by the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel. The case is Wednesday's Supreme Court decision in Thomas M. Weida v. Donald and Kathy Kegarise - see the ILB entry here. From the AP story:

Trial judges are required to carefully outline their reasons when they set aside verdicts reached by juries, the Indiana Supreme Court has ruled.

"Setting aside a verdict because the trial court concludes that it is against the weight of the evidence is a weighty but well-recognized power of common law judges," Chief Justice Randall Shepard wrote in the unanimous 13-page ruling.

But he added that rules say judges who exercise the power must detail the reasons. Without reasons, the verdict should be reinstated.

The ruling Wednesday involved a Pulaski County lawsuit from a February 2002 traffic accident in which the jury found for the defendant even though his attorney acknowledged during final arguments that he had caused the crash.

The jury instructions included a stipulation that final arguments were not evidence.

Pulaski Circuit Judge Michael Shurn set aside the jury verdict and ordered a new trial, but his reasons were not clear.

The state Court of Appeals sent the case back to Pulaski County with instructions for the judge to outline his reasons for overruling the jury. But the Supreme Court instead ordered the jury verdict reinstated.

Indiana trial rules require judges to set aside verdicts if they clearly contradict the evidence, Shepard wrote, but it also requires them to outline those contradictions. If a judge orders a new trial instead of directing a verdict, he must issue additional findings explaining why.

If that is not done, the proper remedy is to reinstate the jury verdict, Shepard wrote.

"Compliance with the requirement is necessary to assure the public that the justice system is safe not only from capricious or malicious juries, but also from usurpation by unrestrained judges," Shepard wrote.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on July 7, 2006 11:13 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions