Friday, January 28, 2022

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Turner v. Stime: A Case in Point

The issue of jury bias toward attorneys was a pivotal element in Turner v. Stime, a 2007 medical malpractice case in Spokane, Wash. The Turners, the plaintiffs, were represented by Mark Kamitomo in their lawsuit against Dr. Nathan Stime. After the all-white jury ruled in favor of Stime, two jurors came forward to report that during deliberations some of the jurors had mocked Kamitomo's Japanese heritage by calling him Mr. Miyagi, Mr. Kamikaze and Mr. Havacoma. One juror claimed that making fun of Kamitomo seemed almost appropriate since it was Pearl Harbor Day.

Superior Court Judge Robert Austin, now retired, overruled the verdict and awarded a new trial because of jury misconduct, though he denied Kamitomo's request to move the trial to Seattle in favor of a more diverse jury pool. Stime's attorney, Brian Rekofke, appealed the request for a new trial. In 2009, the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality at Seattle University School of Law filed an amicus brief supporting the motion for a new trial. Later that year, the Washington Court of Appeals upheld the trial court's call for the new trial.

Along with the direct legal implications, Turner v. Stime ignited a broader discussion about jurors' bias toward attorneys. A 2008 study published in the journal Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology found that an attorney's characteristics often do have an influence on a jury's perception and decision-making. For example, the study found, juries tend to take white lawyers more seriously than those of color, and an attorney's perceived socio-economic status plays a role in the jury's considerations as well.

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