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December 10, 2004

Serving As A Federal Juror - Part II

Alan Imhoff

Now that we the jury had heard the case, we were literally locked in the jury room with a federal marshal outside the door and began our deliberations.

What we had to unravel in this civil case were the original suit by the plaintiff, a former Ukrainian woman and a countersuit by the defendants, another former Russian woman and her Maryland corporation that in essence was a "match-making" service.

There were originally eight counts in the plaintiff's suit of which three were resolved or dropped leaving us with five counts to keep track of during testimony. There were also two counts in the countersuit that were heard simultaneously. As I mentioned in Part One, I took over 40 pages of notes. With seven different counts and a parade of witnesses, keeping who said what and when became a tedious task, but it made it clear - and easy - for every juror to unravel the claims and counterclaims made during testimony.

As a jury, during our breaks and lunch hour, we begin to introduce ourselves to one another and as the Christmas shopping season was approaching we developed a code that whenever it appeared some comment made might be related to the case. We would just say, well it is "time to do some Christmas shopping."

To summarize all the factors in the case, we heard from 16 witnesses over the four and a half days of testimony, had over 30 documents entered as exhibits and found that there is a segment of our society that is a different world when it comes to wanting to get married.

The match-making firm charged its male clientele a hefty one-time fee of $1,850 to match them with a young, educated Russian or Ukrainian woman. Many of these male clients were from northern Virginia and were fairly well established financially and professionally. The women on the other hand did not have to pay anything to be available.

The case revolved around the 90-day marriage visa for a foreign national to come to the United States and marry the individual sponsoring the visa or if it didn't work out to return to their native country. A key element of the case centered on the federal requirement to notify these individuals of the Battered Spouse Waiver.

The plaintiff in this case was introduced to a high-ranking employee of the U.S. State Department in the Ukraine, received her visa and came to America with the intent to marry him. Unfortunately two weeks after arriving, he decided he could not marry her. That same day he introduced her to the defendant who in turn, just happened to have one of her clients available to meet her that very same day.

This second man evidently proposed to her at some point and - just a few days short of the visa expiration date - married her. What took place next was a matter that was heard in a criminal case in Virginia. But, for our case, we were told the woman had to seek medical care at a hospital emergency room and then spent seven months in a shelter.

What became evident during the testimony were several patterns of behavior both by men seeking Russian/Ukrainian wives and by the women willing to use this as a vehicle for marriage. We heard from former wives; we heard from several of the men; and we heard about how the process worked and didn't work.

References were made to the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, official correspondence from the Turkish government as well as the Ukrainian government, doctor and police testimony, even the personal sex lives of several witnesses associated with this process.

Just when you thought things could not get more tangled in the web, they did.

So here we are in the jury room trying to make sense out of all of this. The very first thing we did was just "free associate" and choose our foreman. After about two hours, we decided we didn't want to go beyond 5:30 P.M. and would like to start fresh in the morning.

The next day we began to take each count on its own merit and make our finding for the plaintiff or the defendant. After that, we decided to take the easier of the counts and determine the compensatory award, then the punitive award working our way through the seven counts.

After it was all done we reviewed each count and award and polled each member to verify our unanimous verdict. We found for the plaintiff on all counts and when both compensatory and punitive damages were totaled, over $400,000 had been awarded. The biggest was $250,000 in punitive damages against the corporation for negligence in failing to advise the plaintiff of the Battered Spouse Waiver.

We delivered our verdict, were thanked by the court for our service and left the courthouse.

We heard later that this may be a precedent setting case; we only hoped that it would send a message to businesses in this unique field that American values must prevail over what might be a different value in another county when individuals want to come here to live.

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