Jury pool grilled
in SV lawsuit
By PAT MURPHY
Express Staff Writer
Prospective jurors in a damage
lawsuit against the Sun Valley Co. that began over a confiscated ski
pass spent most of the first day Tuesday being grilled by attorneys
about possible conflicts that could jeopardize their fairness.
In a long-shot coincidence, one of
the prospective jurors among 90 in the pool from which 12 ultimately
would be selected was Kim Hayes, onetime human resources director for
the Sun Valley Co. who was fired and sued the company and general
manager Wally Huffman for discrimination.
That litigation was settled in
February, but details are confidential and were not disclosed by either
Huffman is a co-defendant in the
trial that began Tuesday. Hayes was excused from jury duty because of
her dispute with Huffman.
The action was filed by R. Larry
Stone, co-owner of the Ketchum Grill, who alleges that Huffman angrily
yanked his season pass in April 2001 because of $812.61 in unpaid credit
card charges at the Brass Ranch store in the Sun Valley mall.
Stone, 64, denies he made the
charges and says signatures on sales slips are not his.
Stone claims he would not have
filed the action had Huffman apologized and offered him a pass for the
That point—settling the dispute
without a trial—became a key question to prospective jurors by Stone’s
attorney, Fritz Haemmerle, of Hailey, and Trudy Falger, of Boise,
attorney for Huffman and the Sinclair Oil Co., owner of the Sun Valley
Did jurors believe disputes could
be settled without a lawsuit? Yes, answered several who were singled
Would jurors hold it against
either party because the lawsuit was filed and not settled outside
court? No, they answered when polled.
This trial points up an obvious
problem in this type of litigation facing a jury—the reach and impact of
the Sun Valley Co. on the Wood River Valley, which might be considered a
"company town" because of the resort's large payroll and extensive local
business and civic activities.
Five persons in the pool
identified themselves as current employees and were excused. Another 19
raised their hands and identified themselves as former employees.
Five of the ex-employees admitted
to visiting District Judge John Butler, of Boise, they are biased for or
against the company and could not serve on the panel.
As the questioning continued into
Tuesday afternoon, Judge Butler, substituting for District Judge James
May who is retiring, interrupted both attorneys several times because,
he suggested to them, they were trying to present arguments in their
questions rather than evaluate the competence of the panel to serve.
The thrust of most questions was
about biases for or against Sun Valley Co. and the plaintiff; about
business relationships with the resort or Stone; about friendships with
the company and Stone; (all had heard of Huffman, a few knew Stone);
whether prospective jurors are skiers (half are); whether members of the
jury know each other (most knew at least several other members), whether
they had any business or personal reasons for not serving (several are
small business owners), whether they resented the growth of the Wood
River Valley because of skiing’s popularity.
One prospective juror was
intensely questioned by the attorneys as well as Judge Butler when he
admitted he was biased against ski resorts and large corporations. Judge
Butler refused to excuse him on the request of attorney Falger after the
man promised he would rely on the law for making a verdict.
Another juror told the court that
Huffman was generous with helping community charities. Another
prospective juror, a woman, called the Sun Valley Co. "arrogant" and
"not as generous as it should be in a small town."
Half raised their hands when they
were asked if they didn’t want to serve, but said under questioning they
would serve and render a fair verdict.
The trial is expected to continue