(June 15, 2009) The Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that an attorney may interview jurors following a trial and that a trial court may recall a jury and order a new trial if it finds that jury misconduct occurred.
In a medical malpractice case, the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff. After the trial, the defendant's lawyer contacted jurors to discuss the case. The lawyer learned that the panel had not followed instructions in calculating a verdict, but rather had taken an average of each juror's opinion on damages to reach an improper “quotient verdict.” The defendant's lawyer alerted the trial judge, who called the jurors back and interviewed them without attorney participation. Concluding that juror misconduct had occurred, the trial judge ordered a new trial. The plaintiff appealed this order. The intermediate appellate court overturned the trial judge's order, ruling that defendant counsel's contacting jurors was improper and that the trial judge erred in recalling the jurors and ordering a new trial.
The Kansas Supreme Court reinstated the trial judge's decision. It found that the Kansas civil procedure rules permit attorneys to question jurors following trial without obtaining court permission beforehand. The court viewed post-trial interviews of jurors as important for discovering and rectifying misconduct and providing education to the bar. The court also held that the trial judge did not err in recalling and interviewing the jurors. It said that the impermissible quotient verdict supported the trial court's decision to order a new trial. (Williams v. Lawton, No. 97,132 (Kan. May 29, 2009), available at http://www.kscourts.org/Cases-and-Opinions/opinions/supct/2009/20090529/