The importance of rules

John Branch wrote an article in the Times Digest about two basketball players, Eric Devendorf and Josh Heytvelt. Eric was on the Syracuse college team and Josh on Gonzaga’s team. Both were important players needed by the teams to win when each of them got into serious trouble. Eric was accused of hitting a female student in face and Josh of having a bag of hallucinogenic mushrooms when involved in a traffic stop. The story was about how very differently their coaches dealt with the events.

The Syracuse coach, Jim Boeheim, let Eric play and said the accusations was "overblown." When the University Judicial Review Board ruled to suspend the Syracuse player for the rest of the year, the coach supported an appeal. Several teammates testified for him and the sentence was reduced to 80 hours of community. He missed only two games during that season.

However, coach Mark Few of Gonzaga, reacted in a much different way. Few was furious and immediately suspended Heytvelt. He was ordered to perform 240 hours of community work and was not reinstated on the team. He missed the rest of the season of nine games. In fact, he was not reinstated until the following October after demonstrating how sorry he was for what he had done.

Why do I repeat that story? Well, because I’ve emphasized the importance of rules in our plaintiff cases and this is a good illustration. As Friedman and Malone’s book Rules of The Road and many others have have shown, most jurors believe the lawmust be obeyed even when we don’t agree with it. They believe people should take responsibility for what they do and be held accountable for it. That means if a corporation breaks a rule like "never put someone in needless danger by your products" then the corporation should pay for the harm caused. This belief in upholding the law also means in a criminal case even if the juror suspects the defendant is guilty, they are bound to follow the rule that the state must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

In this story we see one example of what is represented to be an important player at Syracuse basically getting off with a slap on the wrist and the coach at Gonzaga holding the player at that school accountable for his actions. Whether the story is totally accurate or not, it is a good illustration of what we tell jurors their obligation is at trial. Obeying the law, being responsible for our actions and accepting accountability are ideas that win plaintiff cases.

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