Judge sees no evidence juror was bribed in Iowa civil trial
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A judge declined to order a new trial Tuesday in an Iowa medical malpractice case, saying an investigation turned up no evidence to support an anonymous letter that claimed a juror was bribed.
Judge Chad Kepros on Tuesday unsealed the anonymous typed letter that he received in March 2016, which triggered an unusual two-year jury tampering investigation and continues to baffle those involved in the case.
The letter’s author claimed to be a juror in a trial that ended days earlier with a 7-1 verdict in favor of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and against a Tama couple whose daughter suffered severe brain injuries during birth. The couple argued the girl’s injuries could have been prevented had doctors performed a ceasaran section sooner on her mother and was seeking more than $10 million in damages.
The author told Kepros that an unknown man “handed me a padded envelope” with $5,000 cash and told the juror, “I hope you’ll find for the defendants.” The author told Kepros that accepting the bribe and convincing other jurors to rule for the hospital was “driving me crazy” and “that little girl deserve better.”
Kepros asked for a criminal investigation into the letter. The parents, Robert and Jill Todd of Tama, requested a new trial, saying the verdict was tainted by the possibility of a bribe.
The lead investigator concluded that the letter was most likely a hoax written by the dissenting juror, who was upset with the verdict and perhaps trying to get a new trial for the family. But the juror has denied the allegation and no charges have been filed due to lack of proof.
An attorney for the Todds accused investigators of rushing to judgment, saying they failed to fully investigate the possibility that a juror was actually bribed. Since it’s unclear, attorney Martin Diaz argued, a judge should order a new trial in the interest of justice.
In a detailed ruling Tuesday, Kepros said the best evidence suggests the letter was a hoax by the dissenting juror, whom he identified as “Juror X.” Kepros noted that man asked how to contact the judge after the trial and spoke with the Todds’ attorney afterward.
But Kepros said he cannot rule out other possibilities. He noted another juror, “Juror Y,” has come under scrutiny for odd behavior and inconsistent testimony. “Juror Y” wasn’t responsive to the investigator’s requests for an interview or fingerprints and his “reasons for his lack of responsiveness are suspect,” Kepros noted.
In any event, Kepros said that investigators found no evidence that a bribe was offered or accepted despite considerable effort. He said overturning the verdict based on an anonymous allegation would be “contrary to the fair administration of justice.”
“To find otherwise would mean that anyone aggrieved by a jury verdict could obtain a do-over with little effort, minimal risk, and the cost of a postage stamp,” Kepros wrote.