IBERVILLE PARISH, LA (WAFB) - A judge is being asked to step in and decide whether lawyers for a chemical plant in Geismar can dole out cash to former jurors looking for feedback on a recent trial.
On September 26, an Iberville Parish jury ruled in favor of four contractors who were suing the Williams-Olefins company for an explosion left two people dead and more than 70 others injured on Thursday, June 13, 2013.
The jury found that two management groups, the Williams Companies Inc. and the Williams Olefins LLC, knew that employees were at risk before the explosion occurred.
The four contractors who were working at the plant on the day of the explosion and were injured. The trial lasted nearly three weeks with the jury also ruling the plant had to pay out more than $13 million.
Not even a week after that ruling, letters went out to people who served on the jury, reading in part:
"They're not breaking the law. It's just unchartered water," said Tony Clayton, who is representing the injured victims in the case. "To mail the jurors a letter and say, 'Hey we want to talk to you and we will pay you $100 to talk to you,' I just want some guidance from the court. We want the judge to tell us whether or not they can do this or not."
That is why Clayton's team filed an emergency motion Monday asking a judge to deny the "paid interrogation of jurors," saying "Defense counsel should not be permitted to entice the participation of former jurors by promising $100 in compensation without the approval and supervision of this court."
"If you're paying these folks, are you questioning these folks to try to find a new trial?" Clayton asked.
The motion reads, "Defense counsel's tactics are nothing more than a veiled attempt to inquire as to any juror misconduct in deliberations, and elicit grounds for an appeal of the verdict. The enticement of jury members to provide "feedback" in anticipation of the November 2, 2016 second trial on this matter is inappropriate and improper."
A different jury will hear the November case.
After the recent verdict, William Olefins said in a statement that they would appeal the jury's ruling.
"Whatever reason [the jury] came to their decision, is their reason," said Clayton. "So when you offer folks $100 to come into a private setting with you and your lawyers to grill them, then they may say anything that these jurors were influenced by this or this verdict is not. Well now, you have an advantage to go attack the verdict saying, 'Oh I talked to them. This is what they told me.' Now you just made that juror a witness in your motion for a new trial."
The letter that went out to jurors is signed by Dan Jacks with EDGE Litigation Consulting LLC.
His bio on the company's website says "Dr. Dan Jacks loves to help attorneys persuade skeptical jurors. He believes jurors can still be convinced to find in favor of large corporations, even in today's distrustful climate, as long as attorneys (and witnesses) can speak directly and clearly to jurors' concerns."
On Monday, a judge set a hearing for Tuesday afternoon on the matter.
The trial that wrapped up on Monday. Sept. 26 is the first of five civil trials against William Olefins.
William Olefins' two-hour meeting with jurors is scheduled for Tuesday night, but whether that meeting happens will depend on what comes out of the court hearing. A lawyer for William Olefins' would not comment other than to say he trusts the judge will rule appropriately.
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