A Civil Action

by Jonathan Harr

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The Vigil

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The day after closing statements, the jurors begin their deliberation. Schlichtmann considers this time a kind of vigil. He waits in the corridor of the courthouse, agonizing over the jury’s deliberation from afar. The first week goes by, and Schlichtmann waits each day from morning to night. The other members of the firm swaps shifts in visiting Schlichtmann, and Nesson is by his side most.

As time passes, Schlichtmann begins thinking about “all the things [he] didn’t say” in court. He also can’t stop wondering which jurors are on his side, hoping that, as if by telepathy, he can further convince them.

It seems the jurors appreciate Skinner and feel he is a good judge. They wonder why Schlichtmann was always getting into trouble with him. And they don’t care for Facher; they were disgusted by his attitude with Professor Drobinski. One positive note for Schlichtmann came from the consensus that most of the jury feels Riley was lying, and it all connects to the conservation land.

Like Schlichtmann, the jurors are concerned about the questions they were given, wondering how “Schlichtmann could let this happen.” They don’t understand the questions’ complex wordings and are confused as to why they have to answer them in the first place. They thought they would simply find the defendants guilty or not guilty. After a few days, the jurors dig into heated conversations, as there is a clear division in the jury room.

One of the jurors, Jean Coulsey, refuses to believe the companies are innocent. She isn’t able to articulate her stance, so she begins going through the evidence piece by piece to prove her argument. The following Tuesday, juror Robert Fox suggests a deadlock, but the other jurors don’t want to give up on the case. Then some surprising news breaks. William Vogel, jury foreman, will have to go in for heart bypass surgery less than two weeks from the day. Everyone in the jury room is shocked.

The jury continues to deliberate, but they aren’t making progress. A juror named Linda Kaplan begins to suspect Fox is taking home his notes. She reports him to the judge’s clerk, and the judge says he will look into it. 

After seven days, Vogel gives a note to the judge that states they are at a deadlock. Schlichtmann is defeated by this news, but Skinner isn’t ready to let the jury go this easily. Skinner calls in the jury, determines whether they have talked with any outside counsel, and asks them to continue to work. He reminds them to leave their egos outside of the courtroom and tells them that it’s okay to change their minds. 

This extension means that Vogel must tell Skinner about his surgery. Skinner has a private conversation with Vogel about staying on until the surgery date, which he agrees to do. Vogel says he understands if Skinner wants to put another juror in now, especially since the jurors are at a stalemate. The judge asks everyone to wait until Monday, hoping there will be a break in opinion. The jury heads home for the weekend, and in the meantime Schlichtmann’s Porsche is repossessed. 

The following Monday, the judge calls in Vogel to hear the progress of the case, wondering whether he should now replace Vogel with an alternate juror. To everyone’s surprise, Vogel announces that they are finalizing the verdict as they speak. Between the judge’s comments and Vogel’s announcement, the deadlock is broken. Vogel created a two-column chart, one for each company. The group focused on the evidence they had in front of them, and with the...

(This entire section contains 1057 words.)

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judge’s 1968 cutoff rule for the Beatrice evidence, the group decided that Grace is the only company that should be held liable. Eventually, they answer all of the judge’s questions and submit their findings.

The judge reads the verdicts to the court. Facher is thrilled, but he is immediately dismissed from court. Skinner calls the remaining lawyers to the bench to decide the proceedings for phase two of the trial. The judge decides they will return to trial on September 5th.

Schlichtmann calls Donna Robbins to arrange a meeting with the Woburn families later that day. Kiley drives Schlichtmann out to Woburn, but on the way out, Schlichtmann breaks down in the car. He’s devastated to have lost the Beatrice case. What really bothers Schlichtmann is a date the jurors gave in answer to one of the questions. The group was asked to choose the earliest date from which evidence should be drawn against the defendant. Fox picked 1973, which would negate several of the Woburn children who contracted leukemia. 

Back at the office, Schlichtmann’s partners are worried and talk of settling for as much as they can. Gordon and Philips believe they have to cut their losses. 

Schlichtmann and Robbins are invited to New York to be on Good Morning America. Everyone is nervous that Schlichtmann will spread his pessimism, so they send Klieman and Kiley along to keep his spirits up. Schlichtmann flies in silence, which worries Donna. He is starting to break down emotionally, but there is nothing to be done. When they land, Kiley gets Robbins to a hotel and pays for her room then takes Schlichtmann and Klieman to another hotel. He gets them rooms and pushes Schlichtmann to come downstairs for some food. However, nothing is breaking his catatonic state. 

After midnight, Schlichtmann begins to talk. He believes he has failed many people and that he shouldn’t have chosen law as his profession. After some time, Klieman heads to bed and Schlichtmann follows her, resulting in a night of love-making.

The following morning, Schlichtmann finally begins to see clearly. He is ready to put Beatrice behind him and focus on a settlement with Grace. The group of lawyers pick up Donna and head to ABC studios. Robbins does well in her interview, but she feels embarrassed for losing her train of thought. However, Schlichtmann is able to rally the troops with positive words he doesn’t believe. He wants to get back to Boston and focus on his strategy for the Grace settlement. Back home, Klieman realizes their passionate night together may have meant nothing to Schlichtmann.


The Trial


The Negotiation