CBS' 60 Minutes, which reported last month on the whopping awards
given by civil juries in Jefferson County, Miss., may get a chance --
reluctantly, no doubt -- to see that system in action.
Two former jurors in that county are suing the program, along with sources
included in the story, for $6 billion, contending that they were defamed in the story
about "jackpot justice."
"Why Mississippi?" correspondent Morley Safer asked during his introduction.
"Well, plaintiffs' lawyers have found that juries in rural, impoverished places
can be mighty sympathetic when one of their own goes up against a big, rich,
Plaintiffs Anthony Berry and Johnny Anderson each sat on juries that reached
$150 million verdicts -- Berry in an asbestos case, Anderson in a diet-drug case.
The report detailed how the county has been targeted by lawyers and potential
plaintiffs, and how tort litigation there has threatened the livelihoods of
medical professionals and pharmacists. Safer reported that until recently,
legislative efforts to reform the system have been turned back by lobbying from
the state's civil-defense bar.
At one point during the story, an unidentified local florist turned
millionaire by a tort settlement suggested to Safer that jurors make huge
awards believing that "they were going to get a cut off of it."
"The jurors benefit?" Safer asked. "Is that what you're saying?" The man
responded, "They benefit after court, and everything is over with. Yes, sir
. Under the table, yeah."
That remark prompted the president of the Mississippi Trial Lawyers
Association, who disputed the contention, to call for an investigation. District
Attorney Alexander Martin has said that he might investigate.
The florist, identified as Beau Strittman, has since told local reporters he
was joking and thought the cameras were off, according to local reports. 60
Minutes, which has stood by the story, said in its report that it tried to
contact several jurors, but none would talk.