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Insurance defense lawyer Mark A. Perkins was so sure that jurors based a $53,815 personal injury award on faulty reasoning, he hired a private investigator to quiz them later. Jury foreman Joseph L. Miller filled in the blanks of the P.I.’s affidavit form. About $20,000 was awarded for future treatment of the plaintiff’s injured back, $30,000 for lost wages, and $3,815 for medical bills. In Perkins’ view, this showed the damage figures were sheer speculation — and unsupportable. But instead of getting the verdict tossed, the defense lawyer found himself in the hot seat. Perkins works in the offices of Ida H. Pullo, in Shelton, Conn., an eight-lawyer “captive firm,” sponsored by Allstate Insurance Co. When Bridgeport, Conn., Superior Court Judge A. William Mottolese got wind of the affidavit, he refused to consider it. That’s “because its contents concerned the mental processes by which the verdict was determined,” in violation of court rules, Mottolese wrote in a July 25 ruling. He criticized “a practice which intrudes on the secrecy of jury deliberations.” On his own initiative, the judge set Aug. 14 for an inquiry into “the facts concerning the insurer’s post-verdict contact with the jury.” He said he was worried about “abuses” if parties could freely contact jurors after a verdict, without judicial supervision. SHOWDOWN At the hearing, Fairfield, Conn., sole practitioner Allan M. Cane, representing plaintiff Penny Szymczak, objected to the affidavit. He said he didn’t want it to “poison” the sanctity of jury deliberations. The rule at the heart of this controversy, section 16-34 of the practice book, is a total shield against questioning jurors after the verdict, said Cane. That section states, in part, that “no evidence shall be received to show � mental processes by which the verdict was determined.” However, “a juror’s testimony or affidavit shall be received when it concerns any misconduct which by law permits a jury to be impeached.” The cryptic rule doesn’t say what to do when jurors’ mental processes lead to misconduct. Mottolese squared off against Ira H. Lippman of New Haven’s Lippman & Oulette, staunchly defending Perkins. The judge said he believed “jurors should only be approached post-verdict with judicial supervision.” Lippman’s hands were thrust deep in the pockets of his charcoal pin-stripe trousers. He countered that no law says that now. Mottolese shot back, “That may change. That’s why we’re here.” Because court rules prohibit contact with jurors while the jury is in session, it implies that “you can do it when they’re not in session,” argued Lippman. And after they’re discharged, jurors can decide for themselves whether or not they want to speak to anyone, he added. The judge said he wanted to know whose idea it was to contact jurors. Perkins hired the investigator, Lippman said, adding, “I don’t think Allstate had anything to do with it.” Lippman stuck to his guns, insisting the right to talk or not to talk was a juror’s alone. “Mr. Lippman,” the judge said sternly, “I do not think you are being cooperative with the court. I think you are obfuscating, and I think you are circumventing.” At no point did Lippman explain that Perkins’ firm is akin to a corporate in-house legal department, with all casework arising from Allstate insureds. With Lippman insisting that Allstate had no role in the decision to question jurors, Mottolese asked whether it had been incorrect to write that the decision was made by Allstate. After Lippman said it was, Mottolese said he would correct his decision with a replacement page. The judge made it clear he wasn’t conducting a witch-hunt, saying, “The purpose of this inquiry is to determine how to deal with such cases in the future.” Mottolese, a past president of the Connecticut Judges Association, said he would address the issue by amending the standing orders he has for all lawyers coming before him. The amendment, which was not drafted as of press time, would presumably prohibit parties from contacting jurors without court authorization. “I propose to not let this happen again,” said the snowy-haired jurist. “If that order is violated by Mr. Perkins or anyone else, I intend to sanction that lawyer severely.”

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