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A Philadelphia jury has returned a defense verdict in a wrongful discharge action in which an office manager at a local law firm claimed she was fired for serving jury duty. The jury in Sheeran v. Kubert Himmelstein & Associates voted 10-2 in favor of the law firm, at which Julia Sheeran had been employed for more than 20 years, attorneys involved in the case said. In the spring of 2001, Sheeran served as a juror in a criminal trial that lasted approximately two-and-a-half days and ended in mistrial, according to her lawyer, Sidney Gold of Sidney L. Gold & Associates. Sheeran claimed that when she was first picked to serve on the jury, her boss, attorney Bernard Kubert, told her to write the trial judge a letter requesting she be recused due to the fact that her office was shorthanded. She said she refused to do so. Sheeran later claimed her termination had been triggered by her serving on that jury. The defense contended Kubert Himmelstein, a firm with a personal injury focus, had been looking to replace Sheeran prior to her jury service. The case was tried in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court with Senior Judge Barry F. Feudale of Northumberland County presiding. (Sheeran’s father is Judge Anthony J. DeFino and her sister is Judge Rose Marie DeFino-Nastasi, both of Philadelphia Common Pleas Court.) Clifford Cohn of Cohn & Associates defended Kubert Himmelstein. According to Cohn, Sheeran — who was seeking back pay, damages for emotional distress and punitive damages — had initially demanded $350,000 to settle the case. The defense did not respond with an offer, he said. Cohn said Bernard Kubert, now retired, feels the jury’s verdict in Sheeran has vindicated his reputation. “He was very upset that he had been accused of firing somebody for going to jury duty, because he holds the jury system in such high regard,” Cohn said. The trial began April 11, and the jury returned its verdict Friday after roughly three hours’ deliberations spread out over the course of Thursday afternoon and Friday morning, Cohn and Gold both said. Gold said he called as witnesses Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge John J. Chiovero and former Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Christian Sondergaard. Both were involved in the 2001 criminal trial in which Sheeran had been a juror, and both testified that Sheeran had told them at the time that she felt her job was in danger due to her service on that jury. Cohn said he called two witnesses who testified that Kubert Himmelstein had offered them Sheeran’s position some time before Sheeran was ever called for jury duty. No experts were called to the stand during the trial. The court did not officially poll the jury, but after the verdict was read, the jurors informed counsel of their vote and explained that they had believed the defense’s argument that the firm was looking to replace Sheeran prior to her jury service, Cohn and Gold both said. In October 2003, Feudale had denied a motion by Kubert Himmelstein for summary judgment, concluding the firm’s argument that state law exempts retail and service industry employers with fewer than 15 staff members from holding jurors’ places was “absurd and unreasonable.” The “mischief” created by such an interpretation not only would be discriminatory and contrary to the legal exemptions for jury duty, but also would upset the intent of state public policy on the issue, Feudale explained at the time. Gold said that Sheeran, who is currently working for another law firm and earning roughly the same salary she did at Kubert Himmelstein, is considering her appellate options.

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