The Jury Is Out

It often happens that jury trials start slowly, then finish with a rush. That happened in the case of Michael Mann v. Mark Steyn and Rand Simberg. Evidence wrapped up rather quickly, and today the lawyers delivered their closing arguments. I assume that jury deliberations will begin tomorrow, as the arguments concluded late in the afternoon.

John Williams, an elderly lawyer who is Mann’s senior counsel, argued first. I didn’t hear any of it. Rand Simberg went next. Simberg is represented by Baker Hostetler, a solid, large law firm. Victoria Weatherford, a good young lawyer from that firm, argued for Simberg. She did an excellent job–thorough and, in my opinion, devastating. She made a persuasive case that Mann had utterly failed to sustain his burden of proof. I will hazard a guess that this trial will be a major boost for Ms. Weatherford’s career.

Mark Steyn then argued on his own behalf. He largely echoed Weatherford’s themes, and reminded the jurors of the voluminous evidence showing Michael Mann to be a repellent and dishonest character. That included the incident, described as “stunning” by the trial judge, when Mann and his lawyers tried to present admittedly false evidence to the jury.

As both Weatherford and Steyn pointed out, Mann presented essentially no evidence of any damages. And, of course, in order to win, Mann has to show not only that the things Simberg and Steyn said about him were false and defamatory–there was much evidence at trial supporting the defense that they were true–but also that the defendants didn’t entirely believe them. Mann presented no evidence to show such “actual malice” other than the fact that one or two third parties had purported to exonerate Mann, which is at most marginally probative.

In most courts, the defendants argue first, followed by the plaintiff. In the D.C. Superior Court the plaintiff goes first, followed by the defendants, and then the plaintiff gets a rebuttal. I didn’t hear Williams’ rebuttal because I had to go into a meeting. But a lawyer friend who watched online texted me:

In the rebuttal part of his closing, Mr. Williams argued for punitive damages, to deter climate deniers, and compared them to Trump election deniers. Weatherford and Steyn were slow to object.

Several observations about this:

First, Williams needed to talk about punitive damages because his case was devoid of evidence of actual damages.

Second, this disgusting ploy smacks of desperation. It was contemptible for Williams to try to play on anti-Trump sentiment in the jury, but he wouldn’t have done it if he hadn’t known that his case was in deep trouble.

Third, this desperate tactic is unlikely to succeed. Generally speaking, jurors hate naked appeals to prejudice, like this one. Jurors almost always try to discharge their civic duties conscientiously, and they feel insulted when lawyers appeal to bigotry rather than facts.

So now the jury is out. They need to fill out an eight-page verdict form; how long that takes depends on how they answer a few key questions. But I will hazard a guess that we might see a verdict as early as tomorrow. Mann and his lawyers brought their case in Washington, D.C. because they didn’t think Steyn and Simberg could get a fair trial in that heavily Democratic venue. But I think they may have underestimated the basic sense of fairness that nearly all Americans bring to jury duty. Mann presented a lousy case. Simberg and Steyn deserve to win, and I am now hopeful that they will.

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