Our Atlanta medical malpractice attorneys read about a medical malpractice judgment that was overturned due to a trial judge responding to a note from a juror, which was found to be improper by the Georgia Court of Appeals.
The case is Phillips v. Harmon, and the trial judge, Judge Benjamin Studdard of Henry County Superior Court, received, among other notes, one from a juror saying the jury was deadlocked. The attorney for the plaintiff only found out about this note after the trial had concluded. During the trial, Judge Studdard had notified counsel of four other notes sent to him by the jury, but not about this particular note. He also did not mention to counsel his directions that the jury continue to deliberate, and did not preserve the notes for the record.
The case was about the mother of a child born blind and quadriplegic after a difficult birth. The two week trial ended with a verdict for the defendants, gynecologist Deborah Haynes, nurse-midwife Marcia Harmon, and Eagle’s Landing Ob-Gyn Associates. It was only two weeks after this verdict that one juror, Beverly Lemon Angelo, called the plaintiff’s attorney and told him the jury was deadlocked at the end of the second day of deliberations and the jury foreman had sent a note to the judge. Judge Studdard sent back a note in reply, “Please continue deliberating.” Ms. Angelo and another juror, Sandra Lynn Tanner, who did not agree with the majority felt like this instruction meant they should drop their objections and go with the majority. Ms. Tanner stated that she believed the instructions meant they had to keep deliberating until there was a unanimous verdict. She did not know that if there was no unanimous verdict another jury would hear the case.
The Georgia Court of Appeals found that the conduct with the note violated the Georgia Constitution and also legal precedent established in criminal law. A trial judge should not communicate with a jury about a case in the absence of the accused and his counsel. The judgment stated there was no reason for this rule to be different in civil cases. Judge Carla Wong McMillian, writing for the Court, stated, “[A]s a general proposition and broadly stated, a trial judge should not answer a question from the jury in a civil case about their ability to reach a verdict unless the parties and/or their counsel are present as well.”
The judgment did not make a determination as to whether Judge Studdard’s conduct violated the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct. Judge Studdard asserts that his actions did not violate judicial ethics.
Atlanta Medical Malpractice Lawyers
If you or a loved one has been injured by a negligent medical proffesional, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer. The Law Office of Sammons & Carpenter may be able to help you understand your case and advise you how to proceed, so contact us as soon as possible at 404-814-8948, or fill out our confidential online case evaluation form for a free consultation today.
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