Calling Juror 13: Judge Can Strike Trial Verdict in Palimony Case
The problem with maintaining a harem of female companions over the course of 30 years is that, eventually, you may grow attached to one of your companions.
Anyone who's seen Pretty Woman knows that one minute you're making a business arrangement, and the next, you're overcoming a fear of heights to climb a fire escape and proclaim your undying love.
These things happen.
Jacques Gaston Murray, a wealthy, 91-year-old business man, married three times. After his last divorce, he swore to never become emotionally involved in a relationship again. Murray is our Richard Gere/Edward Lewis character in this case.
Katherine Barrese was one of Murray's companions from 1988 through 2007. Barrese is our Julia Roberts/Vivian Ward.
Murray conceded that he probably spent more time with Barrese than with the other companions. Both acknowledge that they loved each other. Barrese, who took care of Murray over the years, claimed that Murray promised that, even if they broke up or something happened to him, she would be cared for.
In the summer of 2007, Murray bid Barrese adieu. In December, Barrese sued.
Barrese claimed that she was entitled to palimony under Marvin v. Marvin, and the jury agreed. (As luck would have it, juries don't sympathize with wealthy men who pay for the company of numerous, younger, female companions.) Murray was ordered to pay Barrese $5.6 million.
The trial court judge believed that the jury was wrong. He explicitly stated that Barrese, "was impeached very thoroughly ... and it seems to me that there is a little bit of element of the jurors that apparently did not like his status as a wealthy man." The judge did not think that there was sufficient evidence of the contract elements in the case, but explained that he didn't think that he had authority to act as Juror 13 and throw out the verdict.
The Second Appellate District, however, ruled that it was not only the judge's prerogative, but his duty, to grant a new trial.
The California Supreme Court has held that the trial court, in ruling on a motion for new trial, has the power to disbelieve witnesses, reweigh the evidence, and draw reasonable inferences contrary to those of the trier of fact. The court sits as an independent trier of fact, and it must independently assess the evidence supporting the verdict.
For a jury verdict to stand, the trial judge has to be satisfied that the evidence, as a whole, was sufficient to sustain the verdict. While the appellate court remanded the case for a hearing on Murray's appeal for a new trial, it did not demand the trial court grant a new trial.
Duly noted, attorneys: If your judge is rolling his/her eyes throughout the opposing party's testimony, you may have a contender for Juror 13 nullification. As for the litigants, we doubt this story will end with Murray driving through the streets of Los Angeles playing La Traviata, but we're crossing our fingers that Murray and Barrese will find their happily-ever-after after all.