Regrettably Skip Tucker has impugned the character, intelligence and integrity of the twelve citizens of Montgomery County who made up the Exxon jury (“Exxon verdict unjust, will not stand” - 1/12/2001). The language and logic he uses is the same rhetoric increasingly used across this country by those with the goal of undermining this country’s civil justice system and our precious Bill of Rights, which includes the right to trial by jury.
Tucker has substituted his judgment for that of a legally constituted jury impaneled under the law. He well knows that all parties in litigation have the same rights insofar as the selection of a jury is concerned. He no doubts considers his knowledge, skills and abilities superior to that of these law abiding citizens who did their civic duty and abided by their oath to fairly and truly try this case and to render a just verdict.
Tucker, a spectator from afar, (I surmise that Tucker did not attend this trial) instead maligns these citizens who should be applauded for being courageous. As a citizen of this state, I could not be more disappointed.
In decrying the $3.5 billion in punitive damages assessed against the corporation, Skip said the verdict revisits a time “where the wealthy personal injury trial lawyer uses his or her wiles to beguile innocent people into numbers that a few understand.” While the unfair stereotype of the “snake-charming attorney” might be convenient for his argument, it makes quite a few faulty assumptions.
It assumes that Exxon, with its huge bottom line, was either unable to afford adequate representation or that the whole corporate defense bar is helpless to defend their clients from the “powerful trial lawyer.”
It assumes that a Montgomery judge stood by passively, defenseless and dumbfounded while plaintiff trial lawyers had their way, hypnotizing the jury to forget all of their common sense and logic. Any practicing attorney regardless of whether they represent plaintiffs or defendants knows that we have a strong bench with judges that follow the law, demand professionalism amongst the lawyers that practice in their courts, and give each side a fair and impartial trial.
Tucker appears to assume that the residents of Montgomery County are, to state it harshly, idiots. Apparently, Skip believes the citizens of this county are easy to “beguile,” unable to follow a judge’s instructions, unwilling to listen to evidence, and incapable of deliberating in an intelligent manner.
I have argued before Montgomery County jurors for more than 23 years, and I know that citizens who serve on our juries work hard, take their oaths as jurors seriously and do their level best to follow the law.
The truth is that only those 12 citizens on that jury heard all of the evidence and arguments suggesting that Exxon deliberately tried underpay the state on royalties for 13 natural gas wells. Only those jurors heard the evidence and arguments against that point of contention. Only those jurors, after listening to the judge’s instructions, deliberated on a verdict.
To insult their intelligence by second-guessing them without having gone through the same process is arrogance.
This jury no doubt thought that its verdict must do what the law expects punitive damages to do and that is to punish the wrongdoer and deter other who might try to engage in similar misconduct.
The rhetoric use in Mr. Tucker’s article are the statements of a movement which seeks, through decreasing access to the courts and spreading mandatory, binding arbitration to allow corporate citizens to escape what we, as private citizens, cannot escape -- responsibility for our actions.
As our founding fathers knew well, the collective intelligence of 12 citizens working together in a jury is our greatest insurance that wealth and power will not allow some to escape justice.