By Nigel Parry
The trial began on July 16th, 23 days ago. The closing arguments were held on August 2nd, 12 court days and 17 actual days later. Deliberation began that same day, reportedly with jurors being given a 50-page rules document to read, and has continued for 5 days til today, with a break for the weekend.
The City Paper‘s Charlie Deitch recounted the brief court appearance of the jury today:
Jurors in the Jordan Miles civil case reported Tuesday afternoon that they are having “difficulty in reaching a unanimous verdict,” according to federal judge Gary Lancaster.
The judge gave the jurors further instructions to continue deliberating and told jurors, “each of you should decide for yourself” but they should “be open to other positions.”
The jury was still deliberating at 3 p.m. Tuesday and many believe a verdict either way will end the two-and-a-half year old Miles saga. If the jury comes back deadlocked, a second trial would be held.
We’ve spent a lot of time watching the jury throughout the first three weeks of the trial. As the jury came into the courtroom today, they looked exhausted and stressed out. Two looked furtive, making me wonder if they were the holdouts. The jury foreman stared at the floor the entire time for the ten minutes that the jury were recalled to hear the judge’s instructions.
“Do not surrender your convictions but be open to other opinions,” Judge Lancaster told the jury members. “There is no reason to suggest another jury would find this easier or do it any different.”
Rich Lord from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that:
Attorneys for both sides said the jury had reached agreement on one count, but not the other two. They would not say which count, nor whether that agreement was in favor of the plaintiff or defense.
News that the jury was approaching deadlock sent attorneys for Mr. Miles, the three officers and the city into a flurry of hushed conversations, but no resolution emerged.
If the jury is able to reach unanimous agreement on one count, but not the other two, then the judge has two options. He could declare an overall mistrial, likely leading to a retrial. Or he could accept the verdict on the one count, leaving it up to the plaintiff to decide whether to push for a retrial on the other two.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette‘s Rich Lord has been doing some fine reporting on the trial, helpfully sifting through the various possible financial settlements in the trial in an August 4th article:
The jury can find unanimously for Mr. Miles, in which case the city would pay the verdict and possibly the plaintiff’s legal fees; find unanimously for the defense, in which case no damages would be awarded; or close the trial with a hung jury, meaning a second trial could be scheduled.
The amount the city would pay if there is a verdict against it depends on a number of factors.
The jury would have to decide which of the officers was responsible for any false arrest, unnecessary force or malicious prosecution.
Then it would calculate compensatory damages, based on the extent of Mr. Miles’ injuries, suffering, distress, defense costs incurred in defending the criminal charges that were filed against him, and future lost wages. Mr. Miles’ attorneys hired University of Pittsburgh economist James L. Kenkel, who testified that the 20-year-old plaintiff stood to earn roughly $2.9 million over his work life if he had a four-year degree. But because he twice dropped out of college, finishing just one semester, his projected lifetime earnings were below $1.8 million, he said.
The officers’ attorneys argued that Mr. Miles could still finish college or pursue a management career with CVS Pharmacy, where he works as a cashier. Next, the jury would have to decide whether to assess punitive damages against any of the officers.
If the settlement exceeds $180,000, Jordan’s attorney fees will be covered by the city
Punitive damages are decided separately from actual damages. Rich Lord continues:
U.S. District Judge Gary L. Lancaster told jurors Thursday that punitive damages would be appropriate only if they found that an officer acted maliciously or wantonly.
The judge said in deciding on a punitive damage award, the jury would have to determine whether the officer’s acts were violent, risked the health and safety of others, and reflected a pattern or an anomaly.
The city has already paid Mr. Miles $75,000 to settle a claim that it failed to properly train and supervise the officers. It also made a June 2011 settlement offer of $180,000 to Mr. Miles that he rejected, leading to the current trial. Both of those acts could limit the city’s liability.
The city would get a credit in the amount of the $75,000 settlement against a plaintiff’s verdict.
Whether the city would have to pay the bulk of the bill for Mr. Miles’ attorneys’ work would depend on the amount of a verdict. Under federal rules, if a verdict would come in higher than the $180,000 settlement offer, the city would have to pay all of the costs and fees of Mr. Miles’ attorneys. That bill could run to six figures.
If a verdict came in at or below $180,000, the city would only have to pay the costs and fees incurred after the date of its offer, thus avoiding the bulk of the bill.