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Thoughts on the Cosby Trial

The recent jury verdict against Bill Cosby is a curious one.

After a three week trial, a Los Angeles jury awarded $500,000 in a sexual abuse case relating to an incident in 1975 - 47 years ago. The plaintiff was 16 at the time. She is now in her 60's.

The circumstances of this case were distasteful. We all know it was not a one-time event. Cosby's ugly and long standing pattern of behavior is common knowledge.

Cosby didn't even attend the trial, although he clearly had hired a full (and likely quite expensive) team of lawyers to defend the matter.

The verdict strikes me as low. Los Angeles is certainly not a conservative venue. The jury obviously believed the plaintiff. Cosby is known to be quite wealthy. He was definitely not sympathetic.

Jurors are not dumb. They understand there are fees and costs. After close to 50 years, the plaintiff will not net a huge amount from this case. She may end up not getting anything.

Even if the jury somehow thought the plaintiff might get the whole amount, the verdict still seems low. Consider the fact that the average house price in Los Angeles is almost a million dollars. The jury gave her half.

What was the jury's thinking?

The short answer is that I have no idea.

One hears tales of "runaway juries." It's said that juries get manipulated by well-funded and nefarious plaintiffs' lawyers. It's bad for business. It's unfair to individuals. Juries exercise “rough justice.” There is a need for so-called tort reform.

It's hard to reconcile those claims with outcomes like this one.

Civil juries are a uniquely American phenomena. We trust the common sense of randomly chosen citizens.

I have tried a lot of jury trials, albeit all in Virginia and mostly medical malpractice cases. Juries do get it wrong sometimes, but it's rare. Juries try hard to get it right - and they almost always do.

My guess is that the plaintiff's lawyers in the Cosby case are very skilled practitioners. They are likely disappointed by the verdict. If I were in their shoes, I would be.

My guess is also that the defense lawyers considered this outcome a win. The verdict could have been exponentially worse. They got him the proverbial "good result."

Either way, we should respect this jury's decision.

Civil juries are a good thing. The system is not perfect, but it works.


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