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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Wednesday, March 31, 2004


Jury pool grilled
in SV lawsuit

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 party.

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 following season.

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 Co.

Did jurors believe disputes could be settled without a lawsuit? Yes, answered several who were singled out.

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 through Friday.


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.