Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Jury Finds for Jorge Granados

     I'll assume you've been following the trial on this blog [for which, thanks] and cut right to the chase.  [If you haven't, but are interested, please page down to earlier posts -- or go back to last Tuesday's post  [Day 2], and/or Diana Alba Soular's good article on the opening of the trial, then skim through the succeeding days' posts.)  You can also just page down to Thursday's post covering Day 4, or further down to the posts for Days 2 and 3.]
     At about 7:20 p,m, the jury of twelve of his peers handed their verdict in the Granados case to Judge Arrieta, who then read it:
      The jury did not find that Dona Ana County had discriminated against him for being Hispanic, bud did find that the county had retaliated against him for raising discrimination complaints and had created a hostile working environment.  Both sides had agreed that if the jurors found the County liable, the damages for lost wages and benefits would be $60,497.05, and the jury foreman duly entered that number on the verdict form.  The jurors then found that the County's conduct had caused Mr. Granados emotional damages as well, and awarded an additional $190,000.
      The verdict was unanimous.  The foreman later told me that there'd been "a majority" from the start of deliberations.  A second juror told me that several jurors had wanted to award $250,000 in emotional-distress damages.
       As soon as the verdict was announced, lawyer Daniela Labinoti began sobbing, and embraced first her client then co-counsel Brett Duke.  Mr. Granados's wife and daughter were also sobbing -- as was Mr. Granados when he came outside and embraced one of the jurors, thanking him.
        "I didn't come for the money," he told the juror.
        "We figured that out," the juror replied.  The same juror had just stated to us that "there should be an investigation into Ms. Padilla" and that "we wanted to set a precedent for the county.  Paying out all that money in the Ramirez case didn't set a precedent, so we wanted to, and stop all this harassment."
        [btw, Diana Alba Soular from the Sun-News was present for closing arguments and the announcement of the verdict, so there should be a Sun-News story tomorrow morning.]
.       [I've also written Sunday's column about the case and the county management, although I'll make some changes to incorporate the verdict, having submitted the column an hour before the jury submitted its verdict.]
        Among other things, my column noted that whatever this jury might find with regard to Jorge Granados, the larger jury was still out concerning county management. It still is.  But these jurors -- twelve average folks, not primarily Hispanic, not necessarily an unduly sympathetic jury to Mr. Granados's case -- have weighed in loud and clear.   A county citizen who knows there are a half-dozen somewhat similar cases out currently wending their way toward trial might wonder how the verdict will affect the county's view of those.
         A citizen might reasonably wonder too about the conduct of this one.   Hindsight is always 20-20, but I came to believe weeks ago that the county (or, more precisely, its insurer) should try to settle the case.  I'm pretty sure the case could have been settled for a lot less than the county (or the insurer) will now pay: $250,000 to Mr. Granados, and several hundred thousand dollars to his lawyers and the County's.  As trial went on, I thought Plaintiff was winning.  I told both sides today that I thought the verdict would be for Mr. Granados, although I guessed the amount of money would be less and added that obviously none of us could know.  The county's insurer, or the commissioners, or the county counsel -- whoever makes these decisions -- did not choose to re-open settlement discussions during trial.
        A little-known secret outside legal circles is that your people win trials, not your legal arguments.  With apologies to friends in county administration who tell me Mr. Granados is a liar, he didn't seem like one this week -- to me or to the jurors.  I'm guessing he may have stretched some things to fit his case into the right legal pigeon-holes, but maybe he didn't even do that.  He didn't seem like a liar or a greedy man.  Rather obviously, he seemed to the jurors a sympathetic figure and a straight shooter.  Most witnesses, though employed by the county, certainly said he was honest and trustworthy -- and said it more clearly than they said much of anything else.  The County did not show otherwise at trial.
        Watching the jurors through the trial, I felt as if they were leaning toward Plaintiff.  Trying to sense a jury's mood can be a treacherous game, but there were some clues in body language, in whose jokes they laughed at, and the like.
        More to the point is whether or not the verdict will affect the county's conduct or its decisions regarding the additional litigation.  Without pre-judging those other cases (and as to most of them I know little more than the names), I'm concerned.  Can the county's insurer and legal team turn off their personal views and look at these cases the way jurors would, in order to calculate settlement value?  If there are trials, will we again see witnesses who work at the county, and feel intimidated by counsel or management, try doggedly to hide their resentment of that intimidation and shade their testimony to be as favorable to the county as they can really make it?. Is there some reason to think jurors won't see through that six months from now as easily as they did this week?
        I know from my own investigation of the county that in certain departments there's a climate of fear.  That's been described or expressed to me by people who look me in the eye and sound generally credible -- and by quite a few of them, while others are too scared even to say "Hello."  Still others appear out of nowhere now and then and give me a sign that although they can't speak to me, and courteously decline to do so when I ask, they see things wrong in county government that they wish were known more generally by county citizens.
       At the same time, I genuinely enjoy and respect some of the higher-ups about whom I find it necessary to write uncomplimentary things.

      The jury began deliberating at about 3:20 p.m. Wednesday.
Closing arguments presented a rich contrast in styles and substance.  Plaintiff’s counsel Daniela Labinoti spoke passionately, showed summaries of testimony regarding discrimination, and closed with a reference to the imminent Fourth of July – urging jurors to “make history” and reassure aggrieved victims of discrimination here that they can speak up.
Defendant’s counsel, Raul Carrillo, spoke calmly and dispassionately, and urged the jurors to consult the mass of policies and documents in the record, rather than following their passions.  “Our job is to come and reason together,” he said.  If he didn’t quite manage to explain just why Granados was fired, he did pretty well at suggesting that the witnesses who testified favorably to Granados were malcontents.
        The county or its insurer will likely decide to appeal.  I'll be interested in their grounds.

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