Book reveals juror forced into bankruptcy by tobacco trial


MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A new book about Minnesota’s tobacco trial reveals that one of the jurors was forced into bankruptcy by the four-month trial.
The trial ended with a $6.6 billion settlement on May 8, five weeks after James Livingston and his wife signed the bankruptcy form.
The plight of Livingston and two other jurors who experienced severe financial difficulty during the trial is recounted in the book “Smoked: The Inside Story of the Minnesota Tobacco Trial.”
The book, published this week, was written by David Phelps of the Star Tribune and Deborah Caulfield Rybak, who covered the trial for Twin Cities Business Monthly and Law & Politics and was a trial analyst for WCCO-TV.
The 12 jurors who sat through the trial each received $30 a day plus lunch. After the settlement, several jurors said they were angry they weren’t given a chance to render a verdict.
Livingston, a welder and metal finisher who was chosen for the jury despite saying he would not be able to pay his bills, was compensated by his employer for only two weeks of jury duty.
He worked part-time during the trial, getting up at 2:30 a.m. and working in the welding shop until 8 a.m. before he headed to St. Paul to begin his 9:30 a.m. court day. He also missed out on at least 10 hours of overtime pay each week.
During the evenings, Livingston got phone calls from creditors. The family bills exceeded their income by $300 a month and his mortgage lender threatened foreclosure.
When he repeatedly tried to communicate his financial problems to Ramsey County District Judge Kenneth Fitzpatrick, he said he got no response. When he sent a copy of the mortgage foreclosure notice, again there was no response.
“They didn’t do anything,” he said. “They didn’t say anything at all.”
Livingston told the book’s authors that the only comment he got from court personnel was an admonition that he should stay awake during testimony if he was going to work such strange hours.
Fitzpatrick retired this past summer, citing health problems exacerbated by the trial. He and his wife moved to a small town in eastern Tennessee and he has not responded to repeated requests for interviews.
Lawrence Cohen, Ramsey County’s chief judge, said Thursday that in financial hardship cases a judge can notify attorneys for both sides, and they usually will agree to excuse the juror. In the tobacco trial, six alternates were available.
Cohen said he didn’t know if Fitzpatrick had done that.
“I wouldn’t want to second-guess the judge on this,” Cohen said. “That generally isn’t the way our system works. Generally people who have serious hardships end up getting excused or the trial doesn’t last that long.”
Cohen called Livingston’s suffering “terrible” and said Minnesota would benefit if a fund were set up to help jurors in his situation.
After the trial, jurors who agreed were interviewed extensively by defense attorneys and at least one national jury consulting firm working for plaintiffs’ attorneys. They generally received about $100 an hour.
Livingston used the money from the interviews to get his house out of foreclosure. His bankruptcy proceedings continue.