Thursday, September 1, 2011

Overreach and Risk Losing the Case

Former Boston firefighter Albert Arroyo, called “the poster child for disability pension abuse” by some, was acquitted recently, much to the consternation of many, for the firefighter, while claiming work-related disability, appeared in various bodybuilding competitions. Jurors when interviewed stated that although most of them believed that Mr. Arroyo was guilty of fraud, they did not believe he was guilty of mail fraud, which was the charge put before them. The jurors concluded that since Mr. Arroyo did not mail his disability forms, but handed them in, he had no way of knowing his forms would in turn be mailed out. The jurors believed they thus had no choice, but to acquit him. They weren’t happy about it, but “we had to stick with mail fraud or nothing.”

There is a potent lesson in here for litigators: don’t over-reach! Proving mail fraud may have, if successful, gained more for prosecutors, but proving mail fraud defied common sense. And common sense is what jurors rely on.

You can’t buck common sense. The easiest, quickest way to find out if the charges or representations of negligence and causation you want to put before a jury will hold up, is to conduct a focus group. As long as your focus group is made up of a sufficient number of persons demographically representative of your jury pool, its members will tell you, in no uncertain terms, what they will “buy” and what they won’t. I guarantee, common sense will win out every time. Go look for it among your potential decision-makers. Do not assume that your version of what will fly, is the common one.

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