Volume 11, Issue 3 - May/June 2009

T h e L a w

A Lesson from an Unlikely Place
by Chuck Lloyd

Funny thing about lawyers—particularly lawyers who try lawsuits for a living; we don’t like to talk very much about our losses. I suppose it is because it can be seen as bad for business. Just as no one is likely to sign up for a surgeon who loses her patients during surgery, clients are not so likely to sign up with a lawyer who loses at trial.

That being said, I want to share with you a loss that I recently suffered and the commentary about it by another attorney who is, when all is said and done, both a wise man and my professional hero.

As some of you may know, in addition to representing glass companies, I have had the honor and privilege of representing a man who spent 14 years in solitary confinement on death row at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola for a double-homicide he did not commit. The greatest day of my adult life was January 2, 2001, when we escorted him from death row and out to freedom. 

Less than a year later, we started a civil lawsuit against the people and agencies we believed were responsible for his wrongful conviction. For more than seven years, we fought and struggled to keep the case alive against incredible odds. Last April, we finally had a pretrial conference and were given a trial date, March 4, 2009. 

We started trial that day in Alexandria, La., as scheduled and for the next three weeks, battled with attorneys for the district attorneys and sheriffs, who were, in our opinion, responsible for a grave injustice. We demonstrated that one or more deputies had lied about evidence; an assistant district attorney had failed to disclose evidence, which tended to show that my client was not guilty of the murders; and a jailhouse snitch had lied about my client and that the authorities knew it but had used him as a witness anyway. 

We further presented testimony about life on death row and about how my client had had custody of his 5-year-old son in 1986 when he was arrested and how he never saw him while in prison. We explained how his son had since changed his name and my client now doesn’t even know where he is. We showed the jury the death warrant scheduling my client’s execution in 1996 and the order that stayed that execution just 17 days before it was to occur. A psychiatrist who does work for the State of Louisiana testified that my client suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. It should have been enough to convince the jury of four men and four women that the district attorneys and the sheriffs were liable and to award my client substantial, actually astronomical, damages.

But it wasn’t.

The Verdict
The jury returned a verdict in favor of the sheriffs and in favor of the district attorneys on all claims. My client gets nothing from the civil trial. No professional experience compares to the pain that I felt on behalf of my destitute client that afternoon. We don’t know why the jury found as it did. The court rules prohibited us from talking to them after the trial. Those who worked so long and so hard for this man were reduced to tears and left to ponder the question “where can we find justice?”

Throwing Rocks
My friend, and my hero, Nick Trenticosta, an attorney from New Orleans who has devoted his entire career to representing the condemned, trying to save the lives of those sentenced to death, sent an e-mail to our legal team. He concluded it with this statement: “Against the greatest odds, y’all forged ahead because it was the right thing to do. I trust that we all will continue to throw the rocks because every now and again, despite the law, we slay the giant.” I think that same thing can be said of the glass industry and those who struggle to address steering and unjust reimbursements. Whether it was the Texas anti-trust plaintiffs or Diamond-Triumph or the Independent Glass Association (IGA) or Jerry Mattison, a Minnesota shop owner who refuses to go quietly into the wilderness when insurers short-pay him or any number of other people who, over the years, have fought the system, the causes they have pursued have been just. The giants have not always been slain, but we must not give up the fight—notwithstanding our setbacks. Fighting for fairness and justice is always the right thing to do.

Chuck Lloyd is a partner in the Minneapolis law firm of Livgard & Lloyd PLLP. He has represented glass companies for more than 15 years. His opinions are solely his own and not necessarily those of this magazine. 

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