By , there was standing room only in the courtroom, the chairs were filled mostly with employees of the defendant company, their families, and members of the press. The large crowd made Rebecca nervous. She had never participated in a trial with so much at stake. When her stomach began to grind from anxiety, she escaped for a moment to the large marble and chrome water fountain in the cavernous hallway and took some medicine to help her get through her opening statement.
She returned just as the jury was entering, its final composition being about the best anyone could hope for, including a good mix of male and female, black and white, blue collar and professional. Each juror seemed attentive and ready for the case to unfold before them. Rebecca returned to her seat, but didn’t have a chance to sit down before the bailiff announced, “All stand, the Honorable Michael Lee Orr presiding.”
The judge quickly gave the jury their instructions and admonished them against speaking to anyone besides other jurors about the case before he announced that the jury would be sequestered for the duration of the trial at a large downtown hotel with ample security. No doubt the judge had been able to put two and two together by reading the news and realizing that strange things were occurring with this case, too strange to be sheer coincidence. In fact, Rebecca wouldn’t even have been surprised to find out that the judge had had a visit from the FBI on this one.
Rebecca was first up once the jury instructions concluded. After taking a slow, deep breath to calm her nerves and keep her voice from cracking, she went to pick up her notes, but decided to leave them behind. Given that nearly every waking moment of the last six months had been devoted to thinking about this case, she knew the arguments like the back of her hand and could do this without a crutch. Walking confidently toward the jury box, she took a moment to connect with and smile pleasantly at each juror, and then began.
“Today, I am going to tell you a story of all-encompassing greed,” Rebecca started. “Greed without a conscience, greed with only profit as a guide. This greed has brought one tragedy after another to Clark and Ashley Boudin and to Billy and Shaunice Holden, including the loss of their baby, Ruby, and pain and suffering to many others.”
At the mention of their deceased daughter’s name, Shaunice, unable to hold back the tears, ran from the courtroom holding a wrinkled white handkerchief to her face. Rebecca watched Shaunice leave before casting a pointed, accusatory glance at Christian Hebert, the very thin, bald president of the company being sued. He returned her glance with a smug, obnoxious grin.
Forcing herself to ignore the irritation and anger welling inside her, Rebecca continued describing, in overview fashion, the location and workings of the defendant’s recycling facility that was illegally handling hazardous wastes, the doctored and falsified reports submitted to the state, and the enormous amounts of toxic pollutants being discharged daily from that plant to the air and water near her clients’ homes. As her crowning point, she told of the resultant devastating health effects experienced by many of her clients that could have been avoided had the defendant company operated as it was required to under the law and installed the equipment needed to do so. Her explanation for the company not doing so echoed her theme – greed.
Rebecca then explained the types of relief that the plaintiffs were seeking, namely compensatory and punitive damages to remunerate her clients as well as civil penalties for violations of environmental laws. She ended by again quickly scanning the faces of each of the jurors, and stating, “You have the power, if not the obligation, to hold the defendant company, its management, and its board of directors responsible for all of the damage that they have caused to my clients and to the environment because of their unconscionable actions.”
After a pregnant pause, Rebecca turned on her heel, returning to the seat next to her boss, Joe, who clapped her on the shoulder and whispered, “Good job.”
Glad to be over the first hurdle, she returned Joe’s smile and relaxed, but only slightly. She knew full well that this was only the beginning of what would likely be the most difficult case she had ever faced.