TorteDeForm

Justinian Lane

Defendant in gun shop case gives up because it can’t have a jury trial

One of the reasons that the right to a jury trial is enshrined in our Constitution is because our founding fathers were afraid that judges could be bought by wealthy litigants or controlled by government officials.  I'm unfamiliar with why the defendant in this case can't have a jury trial, but it would rather than give up than face a judge:

"Adventure Outdoors has decided that it does not intend to defend itself at a bench trial. Unlike the City, which can spend unlimited amounts of the taxpayers' money, Adventure Outdoors is a small retail dealer with limited resources and cannot afford to participate in a four-week bench trial, the result of which is a foregone conclusion," wrote John F. Renzulli, the head of Renzulli Law Firm in White Plains, N.Y. ....

"We're not cutting and running," Renzulli said. But, he added, "We're not spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight something that is a foregone conclusion. We were in this case until we had our constitutional jury taken away from us."

Source: Law.com - New York City Prevails in Gun Shop Nuisance Case

Remember this case the next time you hear a "reformer" argue that juries are biased against out-of-town corporate defendants.

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Posted at 12:39 PM, Jun 03, 2008 in Civil Justice
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Comments

Wouldn't "loser pay" be great for this as John F. Renzulli must be certain of his case and should be able to stake the funds.

Posted by: throckmorton | June 3, 2008 4:00 PM

Justinian, once again, doesn't read what he's citing. The complaint of Renzulli was that Judge Weinstein was biased. Which is true, judging by the fact that he's permitted this case to go forward contrary to federal statute and a New York Court of Appeals decision directly on point. Renzulli seems to be hoping that accepting a default judgment will permit them to find recourse in the Second Circuit on the underlying legal issue that Weinstein decided incorrectly.

Posted by: Ted | June 3, 2008 6:01 PM

Actually Ted, you made my point for me: Jury trials are a great remedy to a biased judge.

And maybe I'm chicken, but I don't think I'd ever stake "bet the company" litigation on the hopes that an appellate court will correct a default judgment that I willingly allowed.

(Please, don't read anything in this post or my comments as my endorsing or condemning the underlying lawsuit.)

Posted by: Justinian Lane | June 3, 2008 6:18 PM

The article is curiously silent on the basis of the judge's decision to order a bench trial. (And doesn't New York have some kind of automatic challenge to a judge for cause? In California, either side in a case may--one time--move to have a judge excused for bias.)

I don't think there is a strategy to go to appeal; the attorneys for the gun shop apparently want out of the case.

Posted by: mythago | June 4, 2008 12:30 AM

These proceedings are the quintessence of ACLU-style strategy. (1) you find a small defendant who cannot possibly afford to spend the resources to mount a proper defense (2) you file suit in an appropriate "kangaroo court" (why wasn't this in Federal Court) (3) you handcuff the defendants (in at least one of these cases the defendant has been barred from even daring to mention Second Amendment rights)

Then, after your WWE referee has provided the "proper" result, you declare victory and hold a parade to celebrate

As for the value of jury trials, when the prosecution can consciously put blinders on the information a jury can hear, a jury offers no additional protections over a bench trial

These Bloomberg trials are like Stalin's trials of the 1930s - a total charade

Posted by: Paul W Dennis | June 4, 2008 7:23 AM

Paul, this was in federal court, in the court of the oft-reversed Judge Weinstein.

I doubt Renzulli thought he would actually fare better in a jury trial administered by Judge Weinstein, given that Weinstein would craft the instructions to the jury; as the Texas state Vioxx trials show, when judges refuse to follow the law, the jury provides no protection at all in the resulting kangaroo court, and the defendants' only protection is that appellate courts will eventually enforce the law. But it's a pithy thing to say to the press that quickly conveys the idea that one is being unfairly treated.

Mythago, I suspect this is a bench trial because the suit is in equity. The suit is in equity because Weinstein has deformed public-nuisance law to achieve the results he wants, and the jury trial is a collateral victim of that. But it's interesting that we never see the plaintiffs' bar complain about the misuse of public-nuisance law, even though the effect is to abolish the jury trial they claim to care so much about.

Posted by: Ted | June 4, 2008 8:11 AM

"[I]t's interesting that we never see the plaintiffs' bar complain about the misuse of public-nuisance law, even though the effect is to abolish the jury trial they claim to care so much about."

Ted, truer words were never spoken.

"Thepoptort" reported on the exact same case, but had a *slightly* more rosey view:

"Yesterday, the case involving one of the defendants, Adventure Outdoors, a Georgia gun shop, which had ranked 82nd out of the 120 worst crime gun retailers in the country in a 2004 study by the Americans for Gun Safety Foundation, was expected to go to trial. Instead, the store's owner backed out of his federal trial...

These cases have been part of a bigger battle to keep illegal guns off the street of New York City through the use of civil lawsuits."

Hmmmm, we've got a Big Bad Defendant on the one hand, and the loss of a jury on the other...Let the plaintiffs' attorney blog-fighting begin!

Posted by: Lawyer | June 4, 2008 10:34 AM

Lawyer, why the need for blog wars? The imaginary arguments in your head will probably suffice. Besides, you'd probably be disappointed to hear plaintiffs' attorneys say that defendants, just like plaintiffs, are in fact entitled to jury trials under the Seventh Amendment. (Though, in my experience, they generally don't want them unless they think that they can make a compelling "look! a monkey!" defense.)

Ted, my first thought was that the defendant had somehow screwed up and failed to demand a jury trial, or asked for a bench trial and changed its mind, ie. that it had the opportunity for trial by jury but lost it. It makes absolutely no sense otherwise, which is why I was surprised the news report didn't explain the basis of the judge's ruling.

Posted by: mythago | June 4, 2008 1:08 PM

The article is curiously silent on the basis of the judge's decision to order a bench trial.

There is no right to jury trial because the lawsuit seeks only an injunction, not money damages.

The Seventh Amendment guarantees a trial by jury in "suits at common law." In the 18th century, "suits at common law," meant suits for money damages, and they were tried before juries; cases seeking only an injunction were called "actions in equity," and were decided by judges alone. The distinction has survived since then.

(And doesn't New York have some kind of automatic challenge to a judge for cause? In California, either side in a case may--one time--move to have a judge excused for bias.)

No federal court has that rule (even in California). And I don't know of any state but California that has that rule in state courts.

Posted by: Elliot | June 4, 2008 1:45 PM

"Lawyer, ... The imaginary arguments in your head will probably suffice. Besides, you'd probably be disappointed..."

mythago,

I highly doubt that anyone who visits this blog cares about what's in my head, or what disappoints me. Please keep it to yourself, or save it for the (relatively few) vistitors of your own blog.

Posted by: Lawyer | June 4, 2008 3:56 PM

Lawyer, you were making snide comments about plaintiffs' attorneys; you're now concerned that I was insufficiently deferential to you? (And really, catty remarks about my blog? You can do better than "whip out the blog traffic and see whose is bigger".)

So if this is an injunction in federal court, then the comments by the defendant's lawyer about having a Constitutional right to jury trial taken away are rather misplaced, as (per both Ted and Elliot) there was no right to a jury trial in this kind of case at all. If the problem is that they cannot get a fair trial in front of this judge, then the real issue is that there is no mechanism for them to challenge the biased judge.

Posted by: mythago | June 4, 2008 5:39 PM

mythago, I'm not sure who invited you to troll on this site, but if you'll actually read what I wrote, I referred to "plaintiffs attorney blog-fighting" which is hardly a "snide remark about plaintiffs attorneys" in general.

But in any event, I'll make what I wrote plainer: one plaintiffs attorney blog, thepoptort, praised the verdict against the Georgia gun-shop owner as "civil justice." Another plaintiffs attorney blog, (this one) insinuated that this defendant shouldn't have had to lose so easily, and should have maybe gotten to present its case before a jury. Hence the "blog-fighting." Not literal. Figurative.

You, somehow misinterpreted this relatively simple irony as a "snide remark about plaintiffs attorneys" and sought justice through an ad hominem attack on me personally, referring to that "the imaginary arguments in [my] head."

I admire your passion to protect plaintiffs attorneys through insults, but I can't help but notice that you'd benefit greatly from thoroughly reviewing the situtation before hurling them.

Posted by: Lawyer | June 4, 2008 7:17 PM

If the problem is that they cannot get a fair trial in front of this judge, then the real issue is that there is no mechanism for them to challenge the biased judge.

In every trial, the losing side claims they didn't get a fair trial. The "mechanism for them to challenge" this is to appeal.

Posted by: Elliot | June 4, 2008 7:47 PM

If the problem is that they cannot get a fair trial in front of this judge, then the real issue is that there is no mechanism for them to challenge the biased judge.

In every trial, the losing side claims they didn't get a fair trial. The "mechanism for them to challenge" this is to appeal.

Posted by: Elliot | June 4, 2008 7:49 PM

Lawyer, you needn't be so cranky that I stepped on your wishful Schadenfreude. The Pop Tort did not praise the lack of a jury trial, or suggest that defendants do not deserve jury trials. According to both Ted and Elliot, a jury trial wouldn't be available to ANY party in this case because it's a suit seeking an injunction.

Elliot - I'm referring to a mechanism for challenging a judge prior to any rulings on the basis that the judge is biased.

Posted by: mythago | June 5, 2008 7:35 PM

We should each sue Bloomberg for affecting our ability to exercise our constitutionally protected rights. Oh, by the way, he has to come to OUR jurisdiction and face my first cousin, the judge. He set the precedent, not me. I might even have him arrested for conspiracy.

Posted by: Angry White Man | July 1, 2008 4:08 PM

We should each sue Bloomberg for affecting our ability to exercise our constitutionally protected rights. Oh, by the way, he has to come to OUR jurisdiction and face my first cousin, the judge. He set the precedent, not me. I might even have him arrested for conspiracy.

Posted by: Angry White Man | July 1, 2008 4:10 PM

We should each sue Bloomberg for affecting our ability to exercise our constitutionally protected rights. Oh, by the way, he has to come to OUR jurisdiction and face my first cousin, the judge. He set the precedent, not me. I might even have him arrested for conspiracy.

Posted by: Angry White Man | July 1, 2008 4:12 PM

We should each sue Bloomberg for affecting our ability to exercise our constitutionally protected rights. Oh, by the way, he has to come to OUR jurisdiction and face my first cousin, the judge. He set the precedent, not me. I might even have him arrested for conspiracy.

Posted by: Angry White Man | July 1, 2008 4:13 PM