On Wednesday, the judge in former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s libel trial against The New York Times admitted that the jury discovered on Monday during deliberations that he intended to dismiss the case. On Tuesday, the jurors found that The New York Times did not defame Palin in their 2017 editorial, headlined “America’s Lethal Politics,” that claimed there was a link between a map from her political action committee and a 2011 mass shooting near Tucson, Arizona.
“U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff said that after the jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor of the Times in the case on Tuesday, one of his law clerks learned that some on the panel had received alerts on their phones on Monday when Rakoff announced, outside the presence of the jury, that he planned to toss out the case because Palin’s lawyers had failed to prove their case to the high standard of evidence required in libel suits against public figures,” Politico reported.
Rakoff stated in his 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.
Rakoff continued by asserting that “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.”
Rakoff then offered his defense of his decision to dismiss the case before jury deliberations were over, writing:
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.
He stated that “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.”
Rakoff, an appointee of former President Bill Clinton, told Bloomberg News, “I’m disappointed that the jurors even got these messages, if they did. I continue to think it was the right way to handle things.”