Nov 12, 2009 Guest blogger Ray Sipsa on advocating for a moneyed injury victim
One of my favorite people and favorite trial lawyers wrote an excellent response to a lawyer concerned about juror bias against his injured client, for already having financial privilege. This friend — and the plaintiff’s lawyer — permitted me to re-print his response, but with the writer’s condition that he be the anonymous Ray Sipsa:
I would first try a motion in limine to preclude evidence of his membership in this exclusive golf club. If he can’t play golf anymore or participate in aerobics, what difference does it make where he does these things? The prejudice would outweigh the probative value.
Assuming the judge does not grant the MIL, I would just confront the jury head on with the issue in voir dire. I can tell you that here in Chicago if I ran a light and hit Michael Jordan’s car during his last season with the Bulls and he missed a game, a jury would have absolutely no problem awarding him $500,000 or whatever his "lost wages" would have been. Or if I ran a stop sign and hit Wil Smith’s car and the injuries were minor but he had to cancel out on a movie in which he have made $20M – I would owe Wil Smith $20M and it does not matter than he does not "need" the money.
The same day, Ray Sipsa added to his above comment, fully capturing his essence:
I stand by my prior opinion that membership in this club should be excluded by a motion in limine.
I remember when I was a teenage kid. I liked golf, but had to play at the public courses which were crappy and you had to wait two hours to tee off. But near our house was a country club with a fence around it and Cadillacs were always going in and out. Shrubbery was planted around the fence perimeter so it was hard to even look in to see the place. But in the spring, before the greenery really blossomed, you could get a look. The course was expertly manicured and it appeared that nobody had to wait to tee off. I was pissed off that I couldn’t get in there and that my father, who had a blue collar instead of blue blood, couldn’t belong. This childhood experience followed me around like a shadow. And so at some point in my 30’s, as a lawyer with my own practice, I finagled an invitation to join a private club albeit a different one. At last I would be on the other side of that fence. I then learned that as F. Scott Fitzgerald once observed, the rich are not like you and me. The members were like the upper crust of insurance defense lawyers. I didn’t belong there and as time went by my friends at the club were not other members but the people who worked there. I quit, but much richer for the experience. Now I suppose that somewhere in this great land, there is a country club where the members consist of caring souls who do not think they are better than anybody else and who proudly count among their members people who work with their hands in factories. Maybe there will be some of those members on this jury. Right. I say file the motion in limine. Everything else should be "Plan B."