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Birmingham, Alabama

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Jon Lewis
Jon Lewis
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Should Supreme Court be a Settlement Tool?

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I was in a mediation last week, and the defendants made an argument during our settlement negotiations. What was their argument? Even if you obtain a large verdict, we will appeal the case to the Supreme Court of Alabama, and it will likely be reduced or reversed.

Is this right? Is that what our Supreme Court is for – a negotiating tool? I thought the jury had the final say? Isn’t that what our Constitution says?

When we try a case before twelve citizens and when those citizens listen to the facts and legal instructions from a Circuit Judge and when those same twelve citizens render a verdict in favor of our client, shouldn’t the verdict stand unless there are exceptional circumstances? Not in Alabama, at least over the last ten years.

Take the State of Alabama v. Exxon for example. In that case, a jury unanimously determined that Exxon committed fraud against the State. Exxon appealed. The Supreme Court of Alabama reversed the verdict and sent it back to the trial court for another trial. In the second trial, the jury came back with another unanimous verdict against Exxon, and the verdict was larger this time. What did Exxon do? Appealed to the Supreme Court of Alabama, and this time, they reduced the verdict substantially so that Exxon was not held accountable for their actions.

Next time you go to vote for a Justice, think about what they stand for. Are they going to be fair and rule according to the law, or are they going to be beholden to the special interest groups who help put them in office? What kind of Justice do you want?