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Justices: Jury issues don't require new trial

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The Indiana Supreme Court affirmed a jury award in favor of a man accused of rape in a civil suit, ruling the jury didn't receive improper communications and the trial court didn't err in providing impasse assistance to the jury. The high court also explained how to harmonize several Indiana Trial Rules regarding whether an appellate claim of insufficient evidence may be raised for the first time on appeal.

In Susana Henri v. Stephen Curto, No. 49S02-0812-CV-641, Susana Henri appealed the jury verdict that denied her civil damages for rape and awarded Stephen Curto $45,000 on his counterclaim for tortious interference with his contract with Butler University. The two were students at the university, had too much to drink and had sex. Henri claimed it wasn't consensual and filed her civil suit against Curto.

A juror contacted Henri several days after the trial and executed an affidavit alleging various things, including issues during deliberation and an alternate juror influencing the jurors. This led to Henri's motion to correct error, which was denied by the trial court.

On appeal, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for a new trial because of errors during the jury's deliberations.

But the Supreme Court didn't think there were any errors in the jury deliberations or actions of the jurors to warrant a new trial. Henri argued on appeal the jury received improper external communications and the trial court didn't properly assist them at an impasse.

The jurors received the final instructions in writing and orally that said their verdict must be unanimous, so the trial court's response through the bailiff to a jury question regarding the necessity of a unanimous verdict didn't introduce any new information nor was it prejudicial to Henri, wrote Justice Brent Dickson. Because of those instructions, the bailiff's alleged answer to the jury question that the jury had to keep deliberating until a unanimous verdict was reached wasn't coercive or result in an unfair trial, wrote the justice.

Even though a juror used her cell phone during deliberations after receiving a call and speaking to the bailiff, reversal and a new trial aren't warranted on this issue. The high court did caution trial courts on this issue, suggesting the best practice is to discourage, restrict, prohibit, or prevent access to mobile electronic communication devices during trial proceedings and deliberations.

In addition the alternate juror's noises, gestures, pacing, and exercising may be annoying, but it didn't constitute misconduct that rendered an unfair trial, wrote Justice Dickson.

The Supreme Court also rejected Henri's contention the trial court committed reversible error by failing to respond as required by Indiana Code Section 34-36-1-6 to a juror's assertion of a jury deadlock and her request to be excused from the jury after 20 minutes of deliberating. The juror's declarations don't reveal an error or omission in the final instructions sufficient to trigger the statute's requirement of mandatory action by the trial court, wrote the justice. Also, the juror wasn't the jury foreperson and her private statement to the bailiff wasn't presented on behalf of the whole jury.

The dispute over the sufficiency of the evidence to support Curto's counterclaim led the high court to consider whether an appellate claim of insufficient evidence may be raised for the first time on appeal. In order to harmonize the rules of Trial Rule 59(A) with Rules 50(A)(4) and 59(J), the justices held that such a claim is appropriately preserved during trial if it is properly asserted in a motion for judgment on the evidence filed either before the case is submitted to the jury, after submission and before a verdict is entered, or in a motion to correct error.

"We intend the phrase 'during trial' to require that a claim of insufficient evidence must be preserved by proper presentation to the trial court. Such a challenge may not be initially raised on appeal in civil cases if not previously pre-served in the trial court by either a motion for judgment on the evidence filed before judgment or in a motion to correct error," wrote Justice Dickson.

Henri failed to challenge the sufficiency of evidence supporting the verdict in favor of Curto during trial by a Trial Rule 50 motion for judgment on the evidence, or by the post-trial Rule 59 motion to correct error. As such, the issue is procedurally defaulted.

The high court also denied awarding appellate attorney fees to Curto.

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  1. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  2. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  3. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  4. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

  5. Brian W, I fear I have not been sufficiently entertaining to bring you back. Here is a real laugh track that just might do it. When one is grabbed by the scruff of his worldview and made to choose between his Confession and his profession ... it is a not a hard choice, given the Confession affects eternity. But then comes the hardship in this world. Imagine how often I hear taunts like yours ... "what, you could not even pass character and fitness after they let you sit and pass their bar exam ... dude, there must really be something wrong with you!" Even one of the Bishop's foremost courtiers said that, when explaining why the RCC refused to stand with me. You want entertaining? How about watching your personal economy crash while you have a wife and five kids to clothe and feed. And you can't because you cannot work, because those demanding you cast off your Confession to be allowed into "their" profession have all the control. And you know that they are wrong, dead wrong, and that even the professional code itself allows your Faithful stand, to wit: "A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law." YET YOU ARE A NONPERSON before the BLE, and will not be heard on your rights or their duties to the law -- you are under tyranny, not law. And so they win in this world, you lose, and you lose even your belief in the rule of law, and demoralization joins poverty, and very troubling thoughts impeaching self worth rush in to fill the void where your career once lived. Thoughts you did not think possible. You find yourself a failure ... in your profession, in your support of your family, in the mirror. And there is little to keep hope alive, because tyranny rules so firmly and none, not the church, not the NGO's, none truly give a damn. Not even a new court, who pay such lip service to justice and ancient role models. You want entertainment? Well if you are on the side of the courtiers running the system that has crushed me, as I suspect you are, then Orwell must be a real riot: "There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." I never thought they would win, I always thought that at the end of the day the rule of law would prevail. Yes, the rule of man's law. Instead power prevailed, so many rules broken by the system to break me. It took years, but, finally, the end that Dr Bowman predicted is upon me, the end that she advised the BLE to take to break me. Ironically, that is the one thing in her far left of center report that the BLE (after stamping, in red ink, on Jan 22) is uninterested in, as that the BLE and ADA office that used the federal statute as a sword now refuses to even dialogue on her dire prediction as to my fate. "C'est la vie" Entertaining enough for you, status quo defender?

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