On Thursday Hancock County Circuit Court Judge Lisa Dodson declared a mistrial in a Hurricane Katrina wind vs. water trial between Coastal Hardware and Lloyd’s of London. The reason for the mistrial was that the jury could not hear the witnesses due to acoustic problems in the courtroom in the recently renovated Hancock County courthouse. I discussed the problems in this post last year.
It’s my understanding that in the trial last week Judge Dodson questioned jurors after a juror complained of not being able to hear the witnesses. Several other jurors admitted to having trouble hearing the witnesses. One juror said that they could hear every few words. As a result, Judge Dodson ordered a mistrial.
Former Southern District U.S. Attorney Brad Pigott represents the plaintiff. Whit Johnson of Currie Johnson in Flowood and Atlanta lawyers represent Lloyd’s.
The trial will be re-set in October with a Hancock County jury. But the trial will take place at the Harrison County Courthouse in Gulfport.
It is reported that of the four Circuit Judges who cover Hancock County, three already refused to hold trials in the courtroom because of the acoustic problems. But after this latest mistrial, I would be surprised if any of the judges will hold jury trials in the courtroom until the problems are fixed.
More importantly, this raises due process questions about prior trials in the courtroom—particularly prior criminal trials. I hear that there have been two criminal convictions in trials held in the courtroom. There is nothing to suggest that the experience with the jury last week was unique. This means that juries in the previous criminal trials likely also had trouble hearing witnesses. How would you like to be sitting in Parchman based on a conviction where jurors could not hear due to acoustic issues? This could create some interesting issues for the Mississippi Supreme Court to grapple with.