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Discounting Ford Motor Co.’s claims of jury misconduct, a Texas state judge has denied the automaker’s request for a new trial involving a $28 million verdict in an Explorer rollover accident that killed two teenagers. Ford had alleged the jury was tainted and possibly corrupted by one juror — the city manager of a small Texas town — who allegedly was romantically involved with a plaintiffs attorney, and who allegedly pressured the jury into ruling against Ford. The attorney alleged in the romance is Jesse Gamez of San Antonio. But on May 17, Judge Amado Abascal of Texas’ 365th District Court rejected Ford’s claims, finding that Ford failed to prove that its right to a fair trial was compromised by jury misconduct. Ford is appealing. “In my 27 years of law practice throughout the state of Texas, and throughout the western United States, I have never seen a more egregious case of jury misconduct than this,” said Ford attorney David Prichard, calling the alleged runaway juror “a bad seed that wanted to get on this jury at all costs. “She used her influence, clearly, to manipulate and sway the jury in favor of her boyfriend/business partner’s clients,” alleged Prichard of Prichard Hawkins McFarland & Young in San Antonio. Plaintiffs attorney Mikal Watts of the Watts Law Firm in Corpus Christi, Texas, called Ford’s claims “outrageous,” and accused the automaker of “trying to smear the names of the jurors with no factual basis whatsoever. “I think Ford is just trying to throw spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks,” Watts said. The case stems from a May 2003 rollover accident in which two teenagers were killed, and two other teens injured. None was wearing seat belts and Ford attorneys alleged that the driver had been drinking. Ford has argued that the driver was responsible for the accident and the deaths. But plaintiffs attorneys maintain that while the driver was responsible for the accident, Ford was responsible for the deaths because it knowingly failed to install a window glass that might have prevented the deaths and injuries. On March 1, the jury reached a $28 million verdict against Ford, and a $3 million verdict against the driver, who was held 10 percent responsible. Garcia v. Ford, No. 030710755 (Zavala Co., Texas, Dist. Ct.). TAINTED JURY? Prichard maintains that the jury was tainted from the start. He presented numerous claims of jury misconduct by the one juror, among them: The juror was and still is a jury consultant who was romantically involved with one of the plaintiffs attorneys, Gamez, a solo practitioner; and that the same juror allegedly helped Gamez sign up three of the victims as clients in the lawsuit against Ford. According to Prichard, the juror was dismissed midway through trial, which took place in Crystal City, Texas, population 8,000. But he said that Ford obtained affidavits from two other jurors who said that the dismissed juror had told the jury that the verdict should be $28 million during the first days of testimony. According to Prichard, those jurors ended up recanting those statements. One did so out of fear, while the other testified that his tires had been slashed, Prichard alleged. Gamez, who has admitted to having an ongoing relationship with the juror, said the relationship had nothing to with the verdict. He also alleged that Ford is “just trying to cover up its blunders” in selecting a bad jury. “You don’t go into a small town and not ask the jurors, ‘Do you know any of the lawyers?’” Gamez said. “They didn’t pick a jury correctly.” Gamez said that while he played no role during the trial, his name was on the court proceedings through the entire trial. He said he signed two of the victims on a personal injury contract, and that he represented one of the passengers. Prichard, Ford’s attorney, has argued that Gamez has a financial interest in the case, and that “he’s looking to put those pieces of silver in his bank.” Gamez’s response? “Sure, it’s true. I practice law to make money. But I’ll get a very small percentage of [the verdict],” he said.

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