Prospective juror recovered damages from asbestos defendants in Bloomington trial

Steve Korris Jun. 9, 2010, 6:52am



BLOOMINGTON - As prospective jurors in an asbestos conspiracy trial awaited examination on June 8, one of them pronounced the defendants guilty.

Joshua Lee, lawyer for Owens-Illinois, reported the comment to McLean County Circuit Judge Michael Prall and said, "Fortunately, it wasn't a quiet conversation."

Lee told Prall the prospective juror said her father recovered from the defendants in a mesothelioma suit.

"Let's have her come in," Prall said, and a woman entered the courtroom.

Prall addressed her as Ms. Scott and asked if a relative had an asbestos case.

Scott said "Walker" represented her father.

Local lawyer James Walker formerly worked with James Wylder, who represents two clients in the case before Prall.

Prall asked if anyone overheard comments she made

"Probably," she said.

Prall asked if she remembered that he said not to talk about it.

"You said that about the case," Scott said.

Prall asked which bailiff she talked to.

"The gentleman first and then the lady," she said. "I said I'm obviously going to have a conflict here. What should I do?"

Reagan Simpson, for Pneumo Abex, said he heard her say something about 17 years.

"He passed 17 years ago," Scott said.

Lee asked if she collected money from the defendants.

"I received money from Honeywell," shesaid. "I received money from Abex. I received money from Owens-Illinois."

Prall has brought all three to trial on a claim that Norman Shoopman and Larry Dunham suffer mesothelioma because the companies concealed the hazards of asbestos.

"I just don't feel I could be partial sitting in," Scott said.

Prall said, "Counsel, approach."

When their quiet conversation ended, Prall asked Scott if any jurors commented that they hoped the case would settle.

"No, well, there was one who said she hoped they would," Scott said.

Prall said, "We're going to excuse you. Don't say anything to anybody about this case or your dad's case."

She left, and Prall brought in the bailiffs for quiet conversation.

After they left, Simpson moved to strike the entire jury pool.

"It's going to be hard to find out who heard," he said.

Lee and Honeywell lawyer Colleen Baime joined the motion.

"What she said is vastly different from what Mr. Lee heard and what the bailiffs said," Baime said.

Prall said, "I don't think we strike everybody without determining they heard something. There was a representation that she spoke loudly to a juror, but it was the bailiff.

"The first thing we will ask is whether anybody heard other jurors comment on asbestos, lawsuits, the plaintiffs or the defendants. If they all raise their hands, we'll see."

Simpson said there could be a domino effect as one juror who heard the comment tells others about it.

Matt Fischer, for Owens-Illinois, told Prall the bailiffs supported Lee's account.

Prall said, "He made an observation and that was fair. I'm glad he did."

The bailiffs ushered 14 prospects into the jury box, and Prall asked if they heard anything "today" about asbestos.

A hand went up, and Prall asked who the prospect heard. The prospect didn't know.

He asked if anyone else heard anything, and two hands went up.

One prospect said a great uncle had a case, and the other said a neighbor had a case.

Prall asked if anyone else heard anything today, and another hand went up.

Prall said, "Counsel, step up."

After quiet conversation, Prall began a new line of questions.

When he finished, Wylder colleague Lisa Corwin examined prospects.

She said Shoopman and Dunham claim civil conspiracy, different from negligence.

She said neither was exposed to Owens-Illinois products, and she asked who would have a hard time finding for the plaintiffs.

A prospect said, "I think I would have a hard time doing that."

Corwin singled out a prospect and repeated the question.

The prospect said, "If that's the law, that's the law."

Corwin distinguished circumstantial evidence from direct evidence and asked if anyone was more of a direct evidence person.

When no one raised a hand, Corwin singled out a prospect.

The prospect said, "I go both ways. I'm open minded. I'll believe circumstantial or direct."

Corwin asked if anyone couldn't return a verdict based only on circumstantial evidence.

Simpson objected, and Prall sustained the objection.

Corwin asked if anyone had strong feelings about money damages in lawsuits.

A prospect said she had strong feeling about cases like hot coffee at McDonald's.

Corwin asked if anyone had strong feeling about damages for pain and suffering.

A prospect said, "Some of them sound silly on the surface, but you weren't there to hear about it."

Corwin said, "This is a big case, as some of you have probably figured out."

Simpson objected, and Prall sustained the objection.

Corwin asked if they could return a $5 million verdict.

Simpson objected, Prall overruled the objection, and the day ended.

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