By Liza R. Magley
On June 25, 2015, Bond, Schoeneck & King, PLLC (“Bond”) filed a complaint with jury demand, in the NDNY, on behalf of Gregg and Susan Spindler d/b/a SGS Statistical Services against Virginia Electric and Power Company d/b/a Dominion Virginia Power (“Dominion”) and the North American Transmission Forum, Inc. (“NATF”), both of which were represented by King & Spalding, LLP. After over two years of mediation and settlement attempts, significant motion practice, and intensive discovery, by mid-February, 2018, the parties were prepared to try the remaining claims – trade secret misappropriation, breach of contract, and unfair competition.
Ten days before the trial’s start date, United States Senior District Judge Thomas J. McAvoy advised that a criminal matter arose, taking precedent, and that trial would have to be adjourned. In the alternative, Judge McAvoy proposed that the parties consider consenting to try the case before United States Magistrate Judge Thérèse Wiley Dancks. All of the parties consented to Judge Dancks presiding over the case. On February 26, 2018, the trial, held in United States Senior District Judge Frederick J. Scullin, Jr.’s courtroom, began with jury voir dire and selection.
Judge Dancks conducts jury selection by bringing all of the potential jurors (in this case, over 25) into the jury box and the courtroom well in order to question them in one round. Over the course of voir dire, it became evident that members of the bench and the bar in the NDNY are in good company. As the potential jurors told the Court about themselves, listeners heard an array of stories and backgrounds – from small business owners to PhDs, from actuaries to coaches, and from retirees to recent college graduates. The depth, volume, and diversity of experience in the jury pool was nothing short of impressive. Plus, these potential jurors, for the most part, remained engaged throughout the voir dire process, paying close attention to the questions, answering them openly and honestly. Thus, by the end of jury selection, the parties could be assured that they had nine jurors in the box prepared to fairly listen to testimony, review documentary evidence, and render a decision.
From February 27, 2018 through March 15, 2018, jurors were presented with substantial live, deposition, and expert testimony, as well as copious amounts of documentary evidence. While this evidence accumulated to tens of hours of testimony and over ten binders of exhibits, the technology available in the courtroom made its presentation far less daunting than it could have been. The attorneys for both sides made frequent use of this technology, needing only to hook up their laptops to cords available at counsel’s table in order to display documents and deposition testimony on the screens available to and in front of the jurors, witnesses, and Judge Dancks. Rather than thumbing through binders to find the right page of an exhibit and putting it on a clunky document viewer, the parties could call up particular pages of exhibits and zoom right in to the relevant text. Similarly, instead of fast-forwarding through deposition videos, the parties had video clips prepared to play smoothly in playlist format. Without a doubt, an already long trial would have taken twice the amount of time it did if it were not for this convenient technology available to us in the NDNY.
Despite snow storms, scheduling issues, and a longer-than-expected trial, eight of the nine jurors were present for the parties’ closing arguments. After deliberating for an afternoon and much of the next day, during which they requested not one, but three, calculators, on March 14, 2018, the jurors rendered a verdict in the Spindlers’ favor on all three causes of action, awarding them the following: (1) for the breach of contract claim against Dominion, $145,100.00; (2) for the trade secret misappropriation claim (a) against Dominion, $111,276.00, and (b) against NATF, $445,104.00; and (3) for the unfair competition claim against NATF, $1,298,220.00. On the following day, March 15, jurors heard proof about, deliberated on, and entered punitive damages against NATF in the amount of $650,000.00.
While the bulk of civil cases filed in the NDNY are settled or dismissed long before a jury would even consider damages, the resources available to the bar, from the courtroom technology, to the jurors who may decide the case, are exemplary, allowing us to ably try even the most complicated or convoluted cases.
Liza Magley joined Bond, Schoeneck & King, PLLC in 2015 after graduating from Georgetown University Law Center earlier that year. She began working with Brian Butler and Suzanne Messer on the Spindlers’ case soon after she started at the firm. The Spindlers’ trial is her first experience with a civil jury trial in NDNY.