The most important jury selection decision since McHugh v. P&G Paper Prods. Co.
Cordes v. Assoc. of Internal Medicine, No. 1737 WDA 2011 (Pa.Super. March 12, 2014).
Last week, Pennsylvania Superior Court, sitting en banc, issued the Cordes decision, which reaffirms McHugh v. P&G Paper Prods. Co., 776 A.2d 266, (Pa. Super. 2001). McHugh held that it is a legal determination as to whether a juror should participate in a case where the juror has “a close relationship, familial, financial, or situational, with the parties, counsel, victims, or witnesses.” The standard of review of the trial court's decision denying strikes for cause is plenary.
In McHugh, the Court recognized the distinction in reviewing the propriety of challenges for cause between the "situational relationship circumstances" and the circumstances where a juror demonstrates a likelihood of prejudice by conduct or answers to questions. In that second circumstance, "much depends upon the answers and demeanor of the potential juror as observed by the trial judge, and therefore reversal is appropriate only in the case of palpable error." In that second circumstance, the scope of review is abuse of discretion.
But where the matter is one of close "situational relationship", the "challenge for cause should be granted when the prospective juror has such a close relationship, familial, financial or situational with the parties, counsel, victims or witnesses that the Court will presume prejudice."
The Cordes Court reaffirmed the principles recognizing that stating:
"We conclude only that the close situational, familial, and financial relationships presented in the instant case necessarily stripped the trial court of its discretion to rely upon the challenged jurors’ assurances of impartiality. Rather, those relationships required exclusion per se. Given the presence on the jury of Ms. Kaelin and Messrs. Snowden and Majors, the trial resulted in a verdict more readily questioned, and more vulnerable to the taint of partiality, than a jury comprised solely of individuals with no such relationship to case participants. Justice aspires to avoid circumstances in which lurks the specter of partiality or bias. We seek with today’s holding to reinforce the importance of erring on the side of caution emphasized in Schwarzbach, Stewart, and other pertinent cases, and, in so doing, to protect the reputation of Pennsylvania courts for the fair and impartial administration of justice."
- Michael Foley, Esq., The Foley Law Firm, Scranton
Plaintiff counsel are PAJ Members Michael Murphy, Esq. and John Perkosky, Esq., Ogg Murphy & Perkosky, LLP, Pittsburgh.
PAJ Amicus Curiae Counsel is George Rassias, Esq., Schmidt Kirifides & Fridkin, P.C., Media.