Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

November 3, 2012

Jury trial or settlement?

Suit by former employees against sheriff under review

VALDOSTA — The plaintiffs and defendants have submitted their final arguments, and now the federal court system will decide whether a jury or a judge will hear the lawsuit against Lowndes County and Sheriff Chris Prine by three of the sheriff's office’s former employees.

On Oct. 11, 2012, a order was issued by the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, Valdosta division, filed an order in the civil action, stating that the Eleventh Circuit issued a mandate on Oct. 1, 2012 reversing an earlier dismissal of the suit and remanding the case to the district court for trial. The defendents were required to respond by Oct. 24 and the plaintiffs had to respond by Oct. 31.

“It's nothing more than a political move,” said Prine. “This has been ongoing for several years, and now it has been brought back up with the election [near].”

Harlan Miller, attorney for the plaintiffs, stated that neither side has control over the case's scheduling.

“I don't have any control over the timing of this,” said Miller. “The only person on the planet who has control over the timetable is the judge. When the Court of Appeals recently overturned the case’s summary judgment, it appears that Judge (Hugh) Lawson went to work immediately on moving this case forward.”

Prine's attorney, Richard Strickland, said the plaintiffs had all but forfeited their right to a jury trial after failing to properly submit a jury demand.

“The defendants contend that they're still entitled to a jury trial, even though they didn't initially ask for it,” said Strickland. “The law normally provides that a request for a jury trial be included in the initial complaint.”

Miller said he, on his clients' behalf, checked “Yes” on the civil cover sheet’s “Jury Demand” option when the plaintiffs filed their initial complaint. But Strickland said that simply checking “yes” isn't enough to demand a jury trial.

Both sides cited cases where a courts moved favorably, with respect to both sides, concerning the acceptance or denial of jury demands on civil cover sheets.

Miller  has invoked three civil procedure rules – Rule 15 “Amended and Supplemental Pleadings,” Rule 38, “Right to a Jury Trial; Demand,” and Rule 39, “Trial by Jury or by Court,” -- in order to have a jury hear the lawsuit.

Section (b) of Rule 39, “Trial by Jury or by Court,” states, “Issues on which a jury trial is not properly demanded are to be tried by the court. But the court may, on motion, order a jury trial on any issue for which a jury might have been demanded.”

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