Almost forgot about this one – Charles Hartman – pled guilty to sexual abuse of a minor in 2007. On January 13th a jury awarded his victim $1.9 million. Boise lawyer Walt Bithell represented the victim, who was 16 at the time she was molested. Speaking about the role of the civil case:
"The civil case is designed to do what the criminal system won’t do – try to make the family whole. You cannot believe the impact on the victim, and the victim’s family," said Bithell, who said in 40 years of practicing law he can remember only one other time when a family pursued a civil judgment in a sex abuse case.
The unanimous jury awarded $1 million in punitive damages, and the balance ($921,000) to cover general damages, counseling and the damage to the family relationships. Although most offenders go to prison and have no money to provide for their victims – that is not always the case. Hartman reportedly has business and real estate that might provide a way to recover the verdict.
So what does this say about the state of justice in Idaho? First, it is possible to win a jury verdict in a civil case that seeks compensation for crime victims. Bithell is a legend here – great trial lawyer and a great man. And Walt had the things you need to win: liability AND damages.
Second, those "run away" verdicts are urban (and country) myths! The jury awarded $1.9 million – not $99 million – like those insurance companies would have us believe. They and the legislature have limited the amount of money a victim can recover in most civil cases supposedly because Idaho juries are not "reasoned" (OK – insert the word "smart" if you dare) enough to sort out real damages from the imagined. Nonsense. Idaho juries, and juries in virtually every courtroom across the land, have a better grasp on what is real and what is imagined than do the insurance fat cats. Think AIG would get those monster bonuses if a group of 12 jurors got to decide?
Third, to win a case like this you have to be willing to try the case. That goes for the client, family and lawyers. Defendants are not going to hand over $1.9 million without a fight, so put on the gloves and get to it. You need a gladiator for your case, and the will to see it through. And trust the jury to get to the truth.