Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Updated: 11:10 a.m. Monday, April 30, 2012
Posted: 11:03 a.m. Monday, April 30, 2012
Since Wellington polo mogul John Goodman was convicted last month of DUI manslaughter, his high-octane defense team has been unrelenting.
Each day, it seems, has brought new allegations of wrongdoing: One juror voted to convict because he wanted to parlay his civic duty into a lucrative book deal. Another bullied fellow jurors. All were disdainful of Goodman’s enormous wealth. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath improperly hid jury discontent from Goodman’s lawyers.
While Colbath rejected most of the claims and refused Friday to recuse himself, he agreed to take the unusual step of interviewing jurors about whether Goodman’s wealth influenced their verdict.
The rare hearing, tentatively set for today, along with dirt flung at virtually anyone connected to the trial, is fueling post-O.J. Simpson trial beliefs that the justice system works differently for the rich.
Attorneys watching the case, which made national news after Goodman adopted his girlfriend for financial expediency, say in some ways his attorneys are just doing their jobs. Roy Black and Mark Shapiro are zealously representing their client. However, some of the claims Goodman’s team is making would never have been made if Goodman couldn’t write big checks from the riches he inherited from his family’s Texas-based heating and air conditioning empire, they added.
“If this was John Goodman the construction worker, the chances we would have heard of this are slim,” said Sandy Marks, a jury consultant.
Goodman’s money and the enormous publicity the trial received make it easier for his attorneys to unearth fodder and more inclined to throw out allegations, hoping one will strike gold.
“When you’ve got a defendant with extensive resources, you have the ability to do things, like hire investigators,” said Michael Grieco, a Miami defense attorney.
He doubted private eyes are trailing the six jurors and two alternates who heard roughly two weeks of testimony about Goodman’s role in the February 2010 crash that killed 23-year-old Scott Wilson. But, he said, investigators are probably watching them closely online – seeing if they are posting anything about the trial on Facebook or tweeting about their experiences.
Further, because people were riveted by the trial proceedings carried live on the Web by news outlets, his attorneys can get help from people willing to report something they say they heard on the street. Toni May, vice president of communications at grant maker Quantum Foundation, did just that.
In a letter Black said she forwarded to him after getting no response from Colbath, May claimed she overheard a juror talking about the trial while she was having lunch at Rocco’s Tacos a day after the verdict. Having closely watched the trial, according to her Twitter account, the Wellington woman said she quickly realized a woman next to her served as a juror on Goodman’s case. May claimed the woman’s complaints about being bullied by one juror and hearing others discuss Goodman’s wealth matched complaints Black said he heard from alternate juror Ruby Delano.
Jury consultant Marks said he was stunned by May’s description of what unfolded at Rocco’s Tacos.
“That’s a whole lot of, whew, I don’t even know what the word is,” Marks said. “It just sounds pretty bizarre.”
He and attorneys questioned why May and Delano – who Black said contacted him about juror Dennis DeMartin’s alleged book deal and claims about jurors’ discussion of Goodman’s wealth – approached the defense instead of prosecutors if they couldn’t get an audience with Colbath.
That’s not to say jurors don’t contact defense attorneys.
“It’s not as uncommon as you think,” said Shari Vrod, a former public defender. If a juror complains about something that is clearly improper, attorneys, even those representing indigent defendants, will ask that the verdict be tossed and a new trial held.
Sometimes it works. An Acreage man in 2010 won a new trial on a charge of manslaughter because a juror looked up the definition of “prudent” on her iPhone and shared the information with other jurors. Rules are clear that jurors can’t consult outside sources for information, the appeals court ruled. The man, Jose Tapanes, was retried and acquitted.
Sometimes, such tactics fail. Attorneys Michelle and Scott Suskauer asked that jurors be interviewed after one wrote a judge after the trial, claiming they felt forced to find Carlos Pozo guilty. After Pozo was convicted of vehicular manslaughter in the death of the daughter of a Palm Beach County sheriff’s sergeant, the juror said fellow members of the panel felt intimidated by deputies in uniform who filled the courtroom. Jurors, she wrote, voiced fear they would be harassed if they didn’t convict Pozo.