Ohio Supreme Court: Juror regret doesn’t warrant new trial

By: - July 27, 2020 12:40 am

Photo: Courtesy of the Ohio Supreme Court

A juror’s regret about her decision in a trial does not warrant a new trial, the Ohio Supreme Court unanimously ruled recently.

The state’s highest court heard the appeal of Madora Jones, who had filed a civil lawsuit against the Cleveland Clinic Foundation claiming medical malpractice. An 8th District Court of Appeals previously ordered a new trial in the case, leading to an Supreme Court appeal.

In the 2017 case, Jones’ husband sought medical help from Cleveland Clinic’s Hillcrest Hospital for chest pains. Tests were run and a cardiologist ruled out a specific heart problem. A week later, Jones’ husband died of a heart attack. 

Madora Jones filed the wrongful death and malpractice suit against the cardiologist, the hospital, and the clinic’s foundation, claiming negligence.

The trial began on a Monday, and a jury began deliberations that Friday. By Friday evening, the jury was still evenly split, and were told to continue deliberating. After having to restart deliberations after one juror left because of a family emergency, the jury was still deadlocked at about 9:30 p.m. on that Friday.

Thirty minutes after the jury was told they could continue the deliberations on Monday despite a seemingly unbreakable split, the court was told they’d come to a decision.

Jones’ attorney argued at the time that the court should not accept the verdict “because of the circumstances involved in the case; that (the jury) said they were tired, they were cranky, and the Judge said they want to go home.” 

The jury reached a six-to-two verdict in Cleveland Clinic’s defense, after which Jones’ attorney argued for a mistrial.

“Reasonable minds can only conclude…that (in) moving from (a) strongly deadlocked position to a complete about-face less than 30 minutes after being instructed to return…that certain jurors surrendered their honest opinion as to the weight of the evidence for the mere purpose of returning a verdict and going home,” Jones argued, according to court documents.

A month later, the court received a letter from a juror admitting she’d “ultimately agreed to a defense verdict in order to avoid coming back the following week.”

Before that moment, the juror said she’d been “very strongly” in favor of Jones winning the case.

The appeals court ruled that the trial court should have considered the letter and ruled a mistrial, and not doing so was “an abuse of discretion.”

In agreeing to hear the case, the Ohio Supreme Court said it would consider whether juror motivation should be considered, and whether a juror should be questioned about their “mental or emotional processes.” 

The high court ruled that a juror’s “impressions of deliberations” are not evidence to prove a new trial is needed, and all Jones offered aside from a note “is conjecture that jurors felt pressured to change their votes because of a desire to avoid further deliberations and because of pressure from other jurors who felt the same way.”

“We find no misconduct or irregularity that warrants a new trial,” Justice Patrick DeWine wrote on behalf of the court in the July 23 opinion.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.