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Tainted Verdict: Sarah Palin Jury Knew During Deliberations That Judge Was Going To Throw Out A Liability Verdict

Tainted Verdict: Sarah Palin Jury Knew During Deliberations That Judge Was Going To Throw Out A Liability Verdict

The jurors “had involuntarily received ‘push notifications’ on their smartphones that contained the bottom-line of the ruling”

Judge Jed Rakoff pulled a highly unusual move as the jury in Sarah Palin’s defamation case against the NY Times was deliberating. He ruled that he would dismiss the case based on Palin’s alleged failure to prove a key element of her claim.

The move was very strange because normally if a case is not proven, a judge rules on legal insufficiency either before the jury gets the case, or after it returns its verdict. That way there is a clean issue for appeal.

Since the jury was not sequestered, there was a strong likelihood that the jury would learn of the ruling before it reached its own conclusion.

This note from the jury during deliberations seemed unusually legalistic:

And that’s what happened according to a disclosure by the judge, as reported by Politico:

Jurors in former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s libel trial against The New York Times became aware during deliberations that the judge overseeing the case had ruled that it should be thrown out, the judge disclosed in an order on Wednesday….

“These jurors reported that although they had been assiduously adhering to the Court’s instruction to avoid media coverage of the trial, they had involuntarily received ‘push notifications’ on their smartphones that contained the bottom-line of the ruling,” the Manhattan-based Rakoff wrote in a two-page order.

While rulings by judges to throw out a case at the close of a civil or criminal jury trial are not uncommon, many legal experts faulted Rakoff for revealing his plan in the middle of the jury’s deliberations. Doing so raised the prospect that jurors would learn of his decision and that it might prompt them to side with the Times regardless of their view of the evidence.

However, Rakoff said in his order that the jurors assured him his decision had not influenced them.

“The jurors repeatedly assured the Court’s law clerk that these notifications had not affected them in any way or played any role whatever in their deliberations,” wrote the judge, who is an appointee of President Bill Clinton and joined the court in 1995.

How did the jurors find out? From news alerts sent out by, among others, the NY Times, as Buzzfeed reports:

“These jurors reported that although they had been assiduously adhering to the Court’s instruction to avoid media coverage of the trial, they had involuntarily received ‘push notifications’ on their smartphones that contained the bottom-line of the ruling,” he wrote.

Several outlets, including BuzzFeed News and the New York Times itself, alerted readers to the judge’s decision via push alerts on Monday, although for these notifications to appear on phones, users must first download the relevant apps and then have alerts enabled via their settings.

Here’s the text of Judge Rakoff’s Order (pdf.):

ORDER

It is the Court’s uniform practice after a verdict has been rendered in a jury trial to have the Court’s law clerk inquire of the jury as to whether there were any problems understanding the Court’s instructions of law, so that improvements can be made in future cases. Late yesterday, in the course of such an inquiry in this case — in which the jury confirmed that they had fully understood the instructions and had no suggestions regarding jury instructions for future cases — several jurors volunteered to the law clerk that, prior to the rendering of the jury verdict in this case, they had learned of the fact of this Court’s Rule 50 determination on Monday to dismiss the case on legal grounds. These jurors reported that although they had been assiduously adhering to the Court’s instruction to avoid media coverage of the trial, they had involuntarily received “push notifications” on their smartphones that contained the bottom-line of the ruling. The jurors repeatedly assured the Court’s law clerk that these notifications had not affected them in any way or played any role whatever in their deliberations.

The Court also notes that when it proposed to the parties, during oral argument on Monday morning, to render its Rule 50 decision later that day but to permit the jury to continue deliberating so that the Court of Appeals would have the benefit of both the Court’s legal determination and the jury’s verdict, no party objected to this plan. Nor did any party object when the Court reconvened later that day, outside the presence of the jury, and the Court indicated that it was prepared to issue a Rule 50 decision at that time. Indeed, no party objected to this procedure at any time whatever.

Nevertheless, in an excess of caution, the Court hereby brings the foregoing facts to the parties’ attention. If any party feels there is any relief they seek based on the above, counsel should promptly initiate a joint phone conference with the Court to discuss whether any further proceedings are appropriate.

SO ORDERED.

It’s ridiculous to say the jury was not influenced, how could they not be? Why did the judge instruct them not to listen to or watch news coverage of the case unless news coverage in itself would be a taint? Why didn’t the jury immediately call this violation of the court’s instruction to the court’s attention? Why did it come out only after the verdict when asked by the Clerk if there were any problems? That the jury concealed the information during deliberations in itself is improper.

This leaves Palin deprived of her most meaningful appeal — to reinstate a jury verdict in her favor if the appeals court reversed Rakoff’s dismissal of a verdict. Instead, Palin has a murky appeal on substance because she has a negative jury verdict, so the most the appeals court could do is order a new trial, not reinstate a favorable verdict.

This is a terrible situation, an injustice was perpetrated. Sarah Palin deserves a new trial now, start next week. She should not have to appeal.

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Comments

Of course they did but none had any courage

The NY Times should be prosecuted for jury tampering.

So, people with the NYT app on their phones were allowed on the jury? Somebody is lying or did so to get on this jury.

…received on their smartphones.”

What the hay are jurors doing with ANY devices during trial proceedings??!!

Set up.

“Judge Jed Rakoff pulled a highly unusual move”
Two apt Spoonerisms in the same day. What are the odds?

    Here’s all you need to know about Rakoff:

    In 2011, Matt Taibbi wrote in Rolling Stone magazine, “Federal judge Jed Rakoff, a former prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s office here in New York, is fast becoming a sort of legal hero of our time.”[24]

    In 2014, Fortune Magazine listed Rakoff as one of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders.[25]

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jed_S._Rakoff

    Rakoff is just another liberal Jew taking the rest of World Jewry to their graves.

      AnAdultInDiapers in reply to TheFineReport.com. | February 17, 2022 at 4:45 am

      I find Rakoff’s ancestry to be entirely and utterly irrelevant, and the suggestion he’s taking anybody to their graves is malign and false.

      @TheFineReport

      “Rakoff is just another liberal Jew taking the rest of World Jewry to their graves.”

      That reads really badly, like anti-semitic badly.

        Yeah, I thought so, too, but we decided to let it stand as it’s really more a shot at leftists than at Jews. Fine’s been here at LI a really long time (a strange place for an antisemite to hang out, right?) and gets the benefit of the doubt on borderline comments.

        M Poppins in reply to Fatkins. | February 20, 2022 at 3:13 am

        I disagree. It’s a category of people who are are curse to their kind, and to everyone else.

This seems incredible poor judgement from the Judge to not wait for the jury to return its verdict?!? What was he thinking?

Why do we even bother having a court system? They just do whatever they damn well please.

    Subotai Bahadur in reply to nordic_prince. | February 16, 2022 at 8:22 pm

    In Leftist jurisdictions; yes, yes they do. No person who is not a Leftist or a protected class is do anything but lose.

    Subotai Bahadur

It seems like Palin can take it forward for jury tampering and the Judge interfering.

right out of the Emmett Sullivan School of Bias

Seems like appeal might be the better route. Send it up the courts and take the inadmissibility ruling up on appeal with leverage going in based on judge’s blunder.

smalltownoklahoman | February 16, 2022 at 7:41 pm

Not sure how New York handles punishing judges when they royally screw up but this judge needs to be disciplined asap! He damn well should have known not to say one way or another how he would rule while the trial is ongoing and that includes jury deliberations. Especially true if he was aware that the jury was allowed to retain possession of their personal electronics while deliberating. I wish Sarah luck with her appeal, she’s going to need it!

This is fantastic news concerning the verdict, hopefully the Times will end up with egg on its face after all.

Rakoff’s religion is irrelevant. Please keep your antisemitism to yourself, You embarrass Conservatives.

“The jurors repeatedly assured the Court’s law clerk that these notifications had not affected them in any way or played any role whatever in their deliberations,” wrote the judge,…” Good lord.

The first two requirements for being a judge are that he or she be 1) honest and 2) not be a fool, even if an honest one; today in our courts there is obviously more than enough of both to go around. All the book learning, test passing, and testimonials clap trap can come later. See Emett Sullivan FISA court rulings and the judge who denied Eric Chauvin’s change of venue request for further examples.

    Owego in reply to Owego. | February 17, 2022 at 3:53 am

    Edit: . . . today in our courts there is more than enough of a shortage of both to go around.

    tbonesays in reply to Owego. | February 18, 2022 at 4:42 pm

    We were completely unaffected by news that the judge rendered our decision irrelevant.

    Because we were blowing it off anyway.

Palin should request that the Court hold a hearing and question the jurors on this issue now

I remain curious whether the NYT actually filed a Rule 50 motion and brief, and whether Palin was allowed to file a brief in opposition. If not, the grounds for appeal are fairly broad, including violation of due process, jury tampering by the judge, and bias of the judge, beyond all of the normal grounds for appeal.
Unfortunately, like the NYT, the actions of the judge will likely be ignored presuming him to be a fool, because the standard for showing bias of a judge is rather high (not actual malice, but . . .)

I hope she appeals.

It seems pretty obvious that the Judge knew what he was doing was going to directly influence the verdict. What I would like to know is why the judge thought that he needed to put his left thumb on the scales in favor of the defendant. Was he concerned that there was too great a chance that the jury could return the “wrong” verdict?

Weird behavior by the judge. Was he trying to get his name into a law school casebook? The prejudice he demonstrates is egregious, and just begs for an appeal.

Don’t give up Sarah. The Constitution was predicated on a free press as a check on Government overreach. This one sided, Democrat owned media empire spewing their bias every day has to end. The NYT has to be held accountable for their bias. We are looking for you to lead.

As someone w/some degree of personal experience w/Rakoff it was objectively clear from the start he was the wrong judge to handle this case. He was smacked down by the 2nd Circuit earlier for one of his characteristically “idiosyncratic” moves, and some of his decisions on excluding certain evidence in this trial were questionable. Questionable, but likely not reversible.

J Rakoff is a very, very smart guy but he mishandled the Rule 50 motion issue. Like all judges he didn’t want to be reversed and tried to set things up procedurally to be insulated via a likely (though not certain) jury verdict in favor of the Times. That’s all normal judicial self-centeredness but the deliberating jury finding out about Rakoff’s decision to rule in favor of the Times regardless of their verdict was unanticipated. Things happen and Rakoff should have set aside the verdict when he became aware of events. If you think “why should he when he was going to rule for the Times anyway?”, that’s the wrong analysis. Rakoff could have ruled for the Times pre-deliberations, he could have set aside a jury verdict for the Times. But like too many judges Rakoff wanted a certain verdict & played games in an effort to insulate himself from being reversed. With someone of Rakoff’s intellect it usually works, but not this time. This screw up is all on him.

    artichoke in reply to Warspite. | February 20, 2022 at 4:55 pm

    Rakoff is very smart. That’s how he could hardly have missed the possibility that an unsequestered jury would find out what was sure to be blasted out in the headlines of many papers and websites. I wouldn’t even be sure about some sequestered juries without knowing the exact conditions of their genteel confinement.

Sorry, I meant that Rakoff could have set aside a jury verdict against the Times via a jnov. The bottom line is Rakoff should have directed a verdict in favor of the Times w/o permitting the jury to deliberate. Whether that would have held up on appeal is an unknown, but that’s what Rakoff wanted to do. By announcing what he was going to do regardless of the verdict while the jury was deliberating and the jury learning of events during its deliberations a real mess was created. A jurist dedicated to the jury system would order a new trial. A jurist obsessed with him/herself would say the jury was not influenced and likely end up reversed. Want to guess what Rakoff will do?

    artichoke in reply to Warspite. | February 20, 2022 at 4:52 pm

    Or a judge that wanted the appeals court to think a jury had acquitted the NYT and there was nothing to appeal, instead of their realizing it was a directed verdict and reviewing the verdict itself on appeal.

    That’s the least charitable take on what Judge Rakoff did.

I’ve respected Rakoff. It seemed he was one of the better ones.

But this one made no sense. I assumed that the jury must be sequestered, otherwise he could never have done this! But he did.

And what’s this about counsel (esp. defense counsel) not objecting? I’d like to know what their opportunity was to object. Judge calls the lawyers into court, announces his plan to acquit, and then what would be the basis for objection? Even then the damage is done in open court already. I suspect this is a spurious comment by Rakoff, because I cannot imagine the scenario where the defense had a chance to stop this totally via an objection.

I agree with Prof. Jacobson, Palin needs and deserves a new trial.

The judge mishandled his role. Period.

Further evidence the rule of law is dead in the USA.

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