TRIAL COURT DID NOT ABUSE DISCRETION IN NOT DISMISSING JUROR AND DENYING DEFENDANT’S POST-TRIAL MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL BASED ON THE JUROR’S ALLEGED FAILURE TO DISCLOSE BIAS AGAINST TOBACCO COMPANIES DURING JURY SELECTION–ALTHOUGH THE JUROR’S SOCIAL MEDIA POSTS DID SUGGEST BIAS RELEVANT TO HIS JURY SERVICE, THERE WAS NO SHOWING THAT THE JUROR HAD CONCEALED THAT BIAS AND THE DEFENDANT ALSO FAILED TO EXERCISE DUE DILIGENCE IN INQUIRING INTO THE BIAS.
R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. Allen, 42 Fla. L. Weekly D2206 (Fla. 1st DCA October 18, 2017):
The trial judge gave all the prospective jurors a detailed questionnaire prepared by the defendants and told the jurors to take it seriously and answer the questions as truthfully as they could. One juror checked areas stating that he had worked or received education or training including tobacco/cigarette industry, addiction or substance abuse and smoking cessation. He stated he was a former smoker and gave details of his former smoking behaviors. The man indicated that he thought his minor son had suffered from smoking-related asthma and when asked about his opinion of other smokers, he explained he felt they were addicted but accountable for their choices.
Over three days of jury selection, the prospective juror was only questioned once. On the fourth day of trial, the tobacco company’s trial counsel raised allegations of juror misconduct in a written motion and sought to have him removed from the jury. The motion alleged that the defendants believed the juror had personal and deep-seated antagonism and bias against the defendants based on social media postings the juror had purportedly made on the internet and in the past. Several days passed, before the trial court heard argument. After taking the matter under advisement, the court denied the motion.
In denying the dismissal of the juror and in denying a new trial, the judge issued a very detailed order based on the De La Rosa three-part test.
As to the second prong of De La Rosa, the trial court found that the juror had not concealed any bias against the defendants, and that his answers were not equivocal. The trial court also found that there was insufficient due diligence exercised by the defendants to meet the third prong of De La Rosa, and therefore denied the motion for new trial.
The First District affirmed. Because the juror had disclosed personal family history with smoking, along with his answers regarding his feelings on the tobacco companies, the court found no abuse of discretion in determining that the defendants should have asked the juror more clear and direct questions during their voir dire.