I was ready to close the case.
Judge Donner instructed her clerk, Ray, to bring the jury back into the courtroom to commence closing arguments. It had been a long four and a half weeks for everyone. The jury shuffled in and made their way to the jury box.
“Counsel, the jury is coming in,” Ray announced.
“You may be seated,” Judge Donner said. She then asked, turning to me, “Is the plaintiff ready to proceed?”
“Yes, Your Honor.”
“Is the defendant DuPont ready to proceed?”
“Yes, Your Honor,” said Clem Glynn.
“Is the defendant Pine Island Farms ready to proceed?”
“Yes, Your Honor,” said Greg Gaebe.
“The court is ready,” Judge Donner said. “You may proceed.” Tensions were high, and my adrenaline was pumping.
I stood up from behind the table where I had sat for the last six weeks and looked around the courtroom.
I grabbed my yellow legal pad from the table to use for reference, though I knew exactly what I was going to say. I had gone through this closing in my head over and over.
I slowly walked toward the jury and made eye contact with as many jurors as I could. I glanced behind me to find my 10-year-old son, James, in the crowd. He had come to watch his old man during closing arguments. Seeing his sweet, innocent face in the courtroom was so meaningful to me. Every dad wants to be a superhero to his kid, and this was my chance to show James what I did in the world—how I fought the evil powers to protect people’s rights for the good of us all.
The other important person in the courtroom that day was Johnny Castillo.
By design, I had asked John to be present during opening statements and closing arguments. Several colleagues had tried to persuade me to put him on the stand, but I didn’t see the value in having this young blind boy testify. While I had the right to do so, it just didn’t feel tasteful or appropriate to me.
It was far less intrusive for Johnny and his family to have the jury watch the day-in-the-life video we had made, which was much more powerful for the jury to experience. I also knew that sometimes these types of cases aren’t well served by overexposing the plaintiff.
I certainly didn’t want the jury to be turned off in some way—or, worse, to be desensitized by seeing the boy in the courtroom every day. Having him there with us now during this pivotal moment meant so much more, and would likely have greater impact.
“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,” I began. “I know it’s been a long haul for you. This is now your fifth week in this courtroom, and we appreciate your time and effort. It’s a huge responsibility to be a juror on a case like this, or any other case, and you’ve done a great job of fulfilling it. It’s your determination that decides what is right and fair under the law.
“We’re here to determine liability and damages,” I said. “We are not in this courtroom for sympathy. I will go through each element of the liability and damages in this case.
“In a broad sense, we all know what this case is about. It’s about defendant Pine Island Farms using the Benlate product that was made by the defendant DuPont, which was sprayed on that lady sitting right over there six to seven weeks into her pregnancy and affected her little boy sitting right next to her.
“While the defenses will be many,” I said, “there is one overriding thing we need to look at: Is it a coincidence that Johnny Castillo’s eyes stopped developing or arrested in their development six to seven weeks into the pregnancy at the same time his mom was exposed to Benlate? That is the one overriding factor in this case to keep in mind when we go through the evidence. When we are finished with closing arguments, which is our interpretation of the evidence, you will retire to the jury room and you will have instructions that Judge Donner will give you.”
In my next post, I continue to recount my closing arguments.
This post is adapted from my book, Blindsided, which presents in great detail the case, the people involved and the groundbreaking outcome.