Every person has a right to a trial by a jury of their peers. That legal theory is simple but, sometimes, in a courtroom it turns out to be complicated.
The hog farm trials against Smithfield Foods have been tried in a federal courthouse in Raleigh. And most of the jurors have been from suburban areas around Raleigh – while the farms being sued are in rural areas. In all likelihood, most of the jurors had never set foot on a hog farm.
Why does that matter? It means most of what the jurors knew about hog farming, when they reached their verdict, they’d learned in the courtroom in Raleigh. And what they believed was true about hog farming probably boiled down to which lawyer made the most persuasive case. On the other hand, a jury made up of people from rural areas – the actual peers of farmers – would have had first-hand knowledge about hog farming to help them judge whether what the lawyers were saying was true.
Early in the trials, Smithfield Foods lawyers made a motion – they said, we’d like to take the jury to the hog farm that’s being sued so they can see it for themselves. The lawyers who were suing Smithfield Foods didn’t like that idea at all. They didn’t want jurors to see the farm. And the judge agreed with them. Which is hard to understand. The lawyers suing Smithfield Foods say the farm is atrocious and stinks and the lawyers for Smithfield say, well, let’s take the jurors down there and let them see for themselves – but then the judge says, no way.
So, in the end, a jury – with people on it who’ve probably never set foot on a hog farm – decided the fate of a rural farm. So, was telling a farmer no, you can’t take these jurors to see your farm, a step towards or a step away from justice?
This is part 5 in a 6 part series