Aron v. Brock

Decision Date01 September 1996
Docket NumberNo. 1545,1545
Citation118 Md.App. 475,703 A.2d 208
PartiesRuthann ARON v. William E. BROCK III. ,
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Albert D. Brault (Brault, Graham, Scott & Brault, Rockville, Robert L. Beerman and [703 A.2d 210] Beerman & Walder, New York City, on the brief), for Appellant

Benjamin Cotten (Cotten & Selfon, Washington, DC and T. Joseph, Glen Burnie, on the brief), for Appellee.

Argued before MURPHY, C.J., and CATHELL and HOLLANDER, JJ.


Ruthann Aron appeals from a jury verdict rendered in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County and from a subsequent order by the trial court that denied her Motion for a New Trial and imposed sanctions against her for filing that motion. She presents several questions on appeal:

I. Did the circuit court err in admitting into evidence extrinsic testimony on collateral matters which [was] highly prejudicial to Aron's case?

A. Was this testimony relevant to the substantive issues at trial?

B. Was this testimony highly prejudicial?

II. Did the circuit court err in refusing to find juror misconduct based upon the preparation of a trial notebook outside of the courthouse?

A. Did the circuit court err in denying Aron's motion for a new trial?

B. Did the circuit court err in its refusal to permit Aron to review extrinsic material created by a juror at home and brought into jury deliberations to determine the existence of juror misconduct?

III. Did the circuit court err in sanctioning Aron as a result of Aron's post[-]trial motion?

A. Did the circuit court fail to make required findings as to bad faith or lack of substantial justification for the filing of the motion for a new trial by Aron?

B. Did the circuit court err by stating that imposition of sanctions under Maryland Rule 1-341 is mandatory?

C. Were the amounts awarded by the circuit court in excess of the costs actually incurred by defendant in defending the motion for a new trial based on juror misconduct?

The Facts

Appellant filed suit below against William E. Brock III, appellee. Her Complaint described the suit as follows:


1. Plaintiff files this action to hold Defendant Brock accountable for the malicious defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and outrageous conduct which he resorted to in his attempt to salvage his stumbling campaign against Plaintiff for the 1994 Maryland Republican Party nomination for the United States Senate. While the nature of a political campaign necessitates some latitude in the tactics which can legitimately be used to portray a competing candidate, Brock crossed all bounds of decency and licensed conduct when he maliciously defamed Plaintiff during the final days of the campaign by falsely telling newspaper reporters and prospective voters that Plaintiff had been "convicted" of, or had otherwise been found guilty of, committing a criminal offense. This was a lie whose genesis was Defendant's desperate attempt to discredit Plaintiff who, according to polls, was in a dead heat with Defendant for the Republican nomination. Moreover, Defendant knew it was a lie or acted with reckless disregard for the truth. Political campaign or not, Brock must be made accountable for all damages proximately resulting from Brock's malicious defamation of Plaintiff.

2. Brock's unjustified and indefensible assassination of his opponent's character caused Plaintiff to suffer extreme mental anguish, humiliation, embarrassment, and potentially permanent damage to her reputation. Moreover, by unleashing his smear campaign against Aron immediately prior to the primary election, Brock stripped Plaintiff of any meaningful chance to set the record straight in time to obtain her party's nomination. As a result, Brock selfishly denied the Republican Party voters of Maryland the opportunity to make a clearly informed choice as to their candidate to run against the incumbent U.S. Senator for Maryland--Democrat Paul Sarbanes.

After an extensive factual recitation, appellant's complaint asserted four counts. In count one, "Defamation/Slander Per Se--September 7, 1994," appellant asserted that appellee "at the Rockville Courthouse ... in the presence and hearing of one or more newspaper reporters, stated that Aron had been convicted of fraud by a jury more than once." (Emphasis added.) She asserted that the statement was knowingly false, slanderous per se, malicious, not justified or privileged and that appellee made the statement with the intent that it be disseminated by one or more newspapers to potential voters who lived in the area and would be voting in the upcoming election. Appellant further asserted that appellee made the statement to discredit her candidacy for the 1994 Republican Party nomination for the United States Senate. As a result of the defamation, appellant alleged that she had been ridiculed, her credit had been impaired, her business relationships had been negatively affected, her reputation for honesty had been demeaned, and her standing as a citizen had been "impugned and belittled." As a result, appellant alleged damage to her personal, political, business, and professional reputation. She also asserted that she had lost "the opportunity to serve in the United States Senate."

In count two, "Defamation/Libel Per Se--September 8, 1994," appellant alleged that the statement made by appellee on September 7, 1994, described in the first count, had been "republished by The Washington Post ... on September 8, 1994." She made further averments similar to those made in count one.

In count three, "Defamation/Slander and Libel Per Se--September 9-12, 1994," appellant alleged that appellee was responsible for certain television commercials that ran during the applicable period. Appellant asserted that the commercials stated that she had " 'trouble obeying the law'; had been 'more than once' 'ruled ... out of bounds' by a court of law; and had 'admitted to ... wrongdoing.' " She asserted that the commercials were intended to convey that she had been found guilty of criminal conduct, and that they were false, maliciously made, and approved by appellee. She included other averments as to damages and other matters similar to those contained in counts one and two.

The fourth count was also a defamation/slander count that was similar to count three except that the defamatory statements were made in radio commercials. In the fifth count, "Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress," appellant asserted that appellee's conduct "was so extreme and outrageous that it exceeded the boundaries of decency and is utterly intolerable to the civilized community."

The jury returned a verdict on March 12, 1996. The verdict sheet reflected that the jury found that the statement(s) were published but that they were neither false nor defamatory.

On March 19, 1996, seven days after the rendition of the jury's verdict and three days prior to appellant's timely filing of a Motion for New Trial, the docket entries reflect the following: "Order of Court that the motion for confiscation is hereby granted." That order resulted from appellant's filing of an emergency motion requesting that the court confiscate a juror's notebook. That motion alleged that a juror had prepared at his home in the evenings a personal notebook and brought it into the jury deliberations and that the notebook "was represented [to the other jurors] to constitute the true record of the evidence in this case." That notebook was represented to be "tabbed" and to contain "highlighting" of certain portions. It was represented to the court as having contained that juror's summary and commentary on the evidence and exhibits presented. Appellant alleged that the respective juror used the notebook to dominate the deliberations and "control the discussions." Appellant's motion noted that what the juror had done in preparing the notebook at home violated at least the spirit of Maryland Rule 2-521. She argued in the motion for confiscation that what the juror had done was improper, citing Niemeyer & Shuett, Maryland Rules Commentary 396 (2d ed. 1992): "The [jurors'] notes can be picked up each day as the jury returns to the jury room. The practice avoids extraneous influences and 'homework' by jurors." Appellant argued below that the practice the juror had conducted in formulating his notes at home and in formulating his comments and position during the course of the trial, violated the requirement that the notes remain in the jury room or with the bailiff, in order to avoid "extraneous influences" and "homework." 1 She also asserts that the juror's conduct had been contrary to the trial court's instructions "not to begin to deliberate until the close of the case." The trial court granted the motion and confiscated the notebook.

Appellant subsequently filed a Motion for New Trial. She asserted in that motion that the trial court improperly admitted provocation evidence and that appellee made prejudicial comments at closing argument. She also relied, in part, on the juror's inappropriate, out-of-court compilation of the notebook, and the subsequent in-court use of that notebook to influence other jurors. Appellant requested a hearing on the issue and "permission to review [the juror's] notes [the notebook compiled outside the courtroom] in order to ... know how serious and prejudicial was the breach." Appellant proffered that, in reviewing the notebook, she would not be delving into that individual juror's "subjective deliberative process." Rather, she sought to examine the extrinsic material, i.e., the notebook the juror had brought into the jury room.

The docket entries reflect that on March 26, 1996, the Motion for New Trial was denied "except as to juror misconduct." The trial court, after a hearing, denied the motion "as to juror's misconduct" and imposed Rule 1-341 sanctions against appellant for presenting the issue....

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    ...satisfy the state of mind exception). Provided that the evidence is relevant, it may be admitted for impeachment. Aron v. Brock , 118 Md. App. 475, 497 n.5, 703 A.2d 208 (1997), cert. denied 346 Md. 629, 697 A.2d 913 (1997).In Smith , 273 Md. at 155, 328 A.2d 274, this Court considered whet......
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