Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Fresno State Seeks New Trial

Not surprisingly, Fresno State is asking the judge to overturn the jury's $19.1 million verdict in favor of former basketball coach Stacy Johnson-Klein. Attorneys for the university also said they planned to ask in the alternative for a new trial in a new venue. Though the attorneys have not publicly specified the grounds for these motions, the Fresno Bee says that possible legal grounds include "newly discovered evidence, irregularity in the proceedings, jury misconduct or excessive damages."

Of course the excessive damages argument seems the most plausible. Eleven million of Johnson-Klein's $19.1 million dollar verdict is attributed to future non-economic damages (emotional harm), an issue around which there was relatively little testimony as far as I can tell. For this same reason, the judge in Lindy Vivas's case reduced her jury award from $5.85 million to $4.52 million, an adjustment that took into account what the judge said was insufficient evidentiary support for the $1.42 million that that jury awarded Vivas for noneconomic damages. He cut that figure in half to $700,000. So it is not unprecedented in these trials for the judge to be concerned about noneconomic damages. Whether Johnson-Klein's judge is concerned enough to grant a new trial or throw out the entire verdict remains to be seen.

Also of note, Fresno State's lawyers aren't the only folks critical of the verdict. Several of Johnson-Klein's former players held a press conference to "voice displeasure with the verdict, show support for university President John Welty and bring attention to what the trial was supposed to be about" which is, from their perspective, the student athletes.