By John DiMotto
For the last several posts, I have discussed the relationship of the judge and jury during the jury trial. Does that relationship survive beyond the trial itself? It actually does.
After the jury returns its verdict in a civil case - the jury answers a number of specific questions that resolve issues of fact - the case is far from over. The verdict starts the next chapter in the case - Motions After Verdict (MAV).
In Wisconsin, attorneys have twenty days to file motions after verdict. These motions either ask for relief from the verdict or ask to enforce the verdict. If MAV are filed, they must be heard within 60 days of the rendering of the verdict and must be decided within 90 days. While the trial court can grant an extension of time to file and hear the motions, the decision must be made within 90 days. There have been a number of cases where the 90 day time limit has been violated and decisions on MAV have been rejected in favor of the verdict.
The reason I say that the judge-jury relationship actually continues is because case law and statutory law makes it clear that if there is ANY credible evidence to support the jury's verdict, even if there is stronger evidence to the contrary, the court on MAV must sustain the jury's verdict. Great deference is paid to the jury's determination of facts, although the court can tweak some answers . The same is not necessarily true for the trial judge's legal rulings.
If the trial judge has made serious errors of law during the trial which contributed to the verdict, a reversal may be in order. If the law given to the jury is inaccurate or incomplete and contributes to the jury's verdict, the verdict cannot stand. This is why it is so important that every judge carefully and fully prepare for every jury trial - paying particular attention to the law that will govern the jury's deliberations.
Before every jury trial, I go over the attorneys' jury instruction and special verdict requests with a "fine tooth comb" and put together a preliminary list of the final instructions as a starting point for the final instructions conference that will be held just prior to the fifth phase of the trial (the Closing Instruction phase). This is a terrific guide for me in my approach the legal issues in the case. The civil law can be complex and great attention must be paid to it on the front end of the trial. If a judge waits until all the evidence is in, mistakes in legal rulings may have been made during the evidentiary phase that jeopardize the ultimate verdict.
The real starting point for addressing MAV is at the beginning of trial not at the end of the trial.