First jury trial for Judge Barberis ends in partial win for plaintiff before six-juror panel; Effective June 1 all civil jury panels will number six

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Feb 19, 2015

A six-person jury ruled partially in favor of a man who claimed his personal possessions were stolen from a storage unit in Staunton following Circuit Judge John Barberis's first jury trial since taking the bench last December in Madison County.

After almost four hours of deliberations on Feb. 11, the three-day trial ended when jurors found in favor of defendant Floyd Klaus on a fraud count and in favor of plaintiff David Armstead on negligence claims.

Jurors awarded Armstead $21,364, which is what the plaintiff alleged was the value of his stolen belongings.

The case, filed by Armstead on Dec. 14, 2011, alleged actions against defendants Klaus and George Ford. Armstead claimed his valuables were stolen from a storage unit at Country View Storage in Staunton, and that he had been fraudulently led to believe the units were protected by security cameras.

Attorney David Duree of David M. Duree & Associates in O’Fallon represented Armstead.

The plaintiff claimed he had accumulated personal property from his 20-year military career in the U.S. Navy, and upon retirement was required to store items. He chose the Country View Storage facility in January 2011.

Armstead rented two adjoining storage units with doors on each side of the building to store all of his property, including “priceless memorabilia he collected from 20 years of traveling the world,” Duree stated during opening arguments on Feb. 9.

Duree described the storage facility as having three long storage buildings with units on each side. The buildings also included several “dummy” cameras, which were fake cameras intended to deter potential thieves.

However, Duree told jurors that Armstead was unaware that the cameras were fake.

Armstead filed a claim against Klaus for misrepresenting the security when the storage facility wasn’t actually secure. Duree argued that had Armstead known the cameras were fake, he never would have rented the storage unit or signed the contract in the first place.

John P. Cunningham of Brown & James, attorney for Klaus, argued that Armstead’s decision to rent a storage unit with Country View Storage had nothing to do with security cameras.

Cunningham said that Armstead saw an online ad for Country View Storage on the Yellow Pages website, which did not mention the cameras. He said the plaintiff chose to use the storage units based on other factors.

Cunningham also claimed security cameras were not required by law and Armstead was told the cameras used to guard the storage units were fake.

Both parties stated that another tenant noticed that the lock on her unit had been replaced. When she was able to get in to her unit, she claimed several items were missing. Stacey Starkey, an employee at Country View Storage, noticed that four or five additional units also had new locks, and Armstead’s unit was one of them.

Cunningham said it was not in Starkey’s job duties to call the remaining tenants, but she took it upon herself to notify Armstead when she didn’t have an obligation to do so.

Duree said Armstead was able to get into his storage unit because only one of the two locks were replaced, and he noticed that all of his valuable items were taken.

In Armstead’s complaint, he claims he discovered the missing items in June 2011 and notified the Macoupin County Sheriff’s Department.

Six-person, versus 12-person, civil juries have been optional for years;       New law effective June 1 will make it the norm

While six-person jury panels have been an option for trial attorneys for several years, a new law signed by lame duck Gov. Pat Quinn will mandatorily reduce civil jury panels across the board from 12 to six.

The Armstead v. Country View Storage trial held last week was the first six person civil jury trial on the books in Madison County so far this year.

Defense attorney John Cunningham said the parties agreed to a six-person jury trial, “because it makes jury selection quicker and because the damages in that case were not significant.”

Armstead’s attorney David Duree agreed that the six-person jury “seemed to work fine” in this case.

Cunningham said he’s tried “at least half a dozen cases” with a six-person jury over the years and doesn’t think the outcome in those cases would have changed with 12 jurors.

“My understanding is that the plaintiffs’ bar pushed for this legislation and believes that six-person juries are preferable in large cases since there will be less chance of a moderate juror holding a verdict down,” he said. “There is probably some truth to that, although it would be hard to prove that the result in a 12-person jury would have been different from the verdict rendered by a six-person jury.”

There has been one other civil jury trial so far this year in Madison County. A 12-person jury entered a verdict in favor of defendant Lueders Ross Agency on Jan. 6.

In that case, plaintiffs Eureka Hampton and Rufis Jefferson claimed they purchased insurance coverage from Lueders but were denied their claim after an October 2009 fire destroyed their home and personal contents at 2416 Adams St. in Granite City.

However, Lueders argued that Hampton knew co-applicant Jefferson was a convicted felon and acknowledged that she, too, was a convicted felon, but they failed to provide that information in their application.

Furthermore, the plaintiffs were tenants at the property and were subject to a lease with a purchase option at the time of the fire.

Circuit Judge William Mudge presided over that case.

Madison County Circuit Court case number 11-MR-303

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