Magazine article American Libraries

Reading Choice Generates New Trial Motion. (News Fronts)

Magazine article American Libraries

Reading Choice Generates New Trial Motion. (News Fronts)

Article excerpt

Citing new information about a juror's recreational reading during breaks in a 1997 court case, lawyers for a Philadelphia-based chemical manufacturer are requesting a new trial.

Sharon A. Dennison, manager of the Free Library of Philadelphia's Bustleton Avenue branch, was a juror during the trial of Rohm and Haas v. Continental Casualty, in which Rohm and Haas sued two insurance companies to recover environmental cleanup costs at two Superfund sites. According to the motion, Dennison was exposed to extraneous prejudicial information by reading Jonathan Harr's A Civil Action, the Legal Intelligencer reported January 2. The bestselling book tells the story of a suit brought against W. R. Grace and Beatrice Foods by families of eight leukemia victims who lived near the defendants' plant in Woburn, Massachusetts, and claimed that the defendants' dumping of a cancer-causing industrial solvent had caused their children's illness.

"This is not a case where a juror may merely have glanced at a newspaper or magazine article or been briefly exposed to something on television," the motion for a new trial stated. "Rather, during trial, a vocal and outspoken juror chose to read a long, detailed and highly prejudicial book about a case--also involving groundwater contamination allegedly caused by large corporations--which she described as 'just like this case.'"

Although the jury decided for the insurers, trial judge Paul L. …

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