Judge grants new trial in MPC worker's comp case because of juror misconduct

2012-05-18T08:28:00Z 2012-05-19T18:54:05Z Judge grants new trial in MPC worker's comp case because of juror misconductBy JOHN GRAN EMEIGH Montana Standard The Billings Gazette

BUTTE — One juror’s misconduct has caused the verdict in a nearly month-long trial against the former Montana Power Co. to be thrown out and a new trial granted.

Butte District Judge Kurt Krueger ruled that a juror “tipped the scale of justice” during deliberations in the trial. The trial stemmed from a worker’s compensation lawsuit filed by former Montana Power employees against the now-defunct utility.

In Tuesday’s ruling, the judge granted a new trial for the 141 former employees because a juror presented outside information to his fellow jurors.

The judge’s decision dismisses February’s 8-4 jury verdict in favor of Montana Power, which saved the former utility from paying potentially millions of dollars in damages. The judge determined that juror Brian Vieke brought “prejudicial information” to the other 11 jurors’ attention during the two days of deliberations. Vieke reviewed and told the other jurors about his employee manual that wasn’t presented as evidence, according to the ruling.

He also shared personal information about one of the plaintiffs, contending the employee had a history of filing worker’s compensation claims, the ruling stated.

Even though Vieke claims to have known the plaintiff for a long time, he didn’t share this information during jury selection.

Krueger stated in his ruling that the jury was reminded each day of the trial not to discuss the case with anyone or consider any evidence not presented during the trial.

Missoula attorney Lon Dale, who represented the former employees, asked the court for a new trial in April after learning from other jurors about Vieke’s actions.

Montana Power attorney Joe Seifert argued during the motion hearing in April that a new trial wasn’t necessary because the other jurors claimed that their decisions weren’t influence by Vieke’s comments.

Attempts to contact Vieke for comment were unsuccessful.

The employees’ lawsuit claimed the now-defunct utility neglected to attempt to pay its workers’ compensation benefits when liability was reasonably clear going back to 1977.

Attorneys for both parties didn’t return phone messages seeking comment.

Though Tuesday’s ruling says Vieke is accused of jury misconduct, it doesn’t state if he faces legal consequences.

Chief Deputy County Attorney Samm Cox said on Thursday that no charge has been filed against Vieke.

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