The Runaway Jury Study Guide

The Runaway Jury

The Runaway Jury by John Grisham

Every jury has a leader, and the verdict belongs to him.

Wendall Rohr and a legal team of successful tort lawyers have filed suit on behalf of plaintiff Celeste Wood, whose husband died of lung cancer. The trial is to be held in Biloxi, Mississippi, a state thought to have favorable tort laws and sympathetic juries. The defendant is Pynex, a tobacco company.

Even before the jury has been sworn in, a stealth juror, Nicholas Easter, has begun to quietly connive behind the scenes, in concert with a mysterious woman known only as Marlee.

Rankin Fitch, a shady "consultant" who has directed eight successful trials for the tobacco industry, has placed a camera in the courtroom in order to observe the proceedings in his office nearby. He has begun to plot many schemes to reach to the jury. He planned to get to Millie Dupree through blackmailing her husband through a tape that has him trying to bribe an official. He reaches to Lonnie Shaver through convincing a company to buy his employer and convince him through orientation. He also tries to reach Rikki Coleman through a blackmail of revealing her abortion to her husband. As the case continues, Fitch is approached by Marlee with a proposal to "buy" the verdict.

Quite early on, it becomes obvious what Nicholas Easter and his lover/partner Marlee are doing: he is working from the inside to gain control of jury - being warm-hearted, sympathetic and very helpful to jurors who might be won over, and rather ruthless to those who prove impervious to his efforts. Eventually, Easter becomes jury foreman after the previous one falls ill (resulting from Nicholas spiking his coffee). Easter also manages to completely hoodwink and repeatedly manipulate the Presiding Judge - despite his being a veteran judge who is well aware of the vast monetary interests involved, and who (correctly) suspects both sides of resorting to underhand methods. Meanwhile, Marlee acts as Easter's agent on the outside, increasingly convincing Fitch that, indeed, Easter is in control of the jury and in a position to deliver any verdict on demand.

Marlee gives the highly experienced and cynical Fitch the impression that the pair's object in doing all this is purely mercenary - to sell the verdict to highest bidder. Still, Fitch makes a great effort to discover Marlee's true name and antecedents. This turns out to be extremely difficult, and the detectives employed by Fitch express their grudging respect for her skill in hiding her tracks.

With the court proceedings reaching their climax, Fitch - still in the dark about Marlee's past - agrees to her proposal to pay $10 million for a favorable verdict. Only after the money was irrevocably transferred to an offshore banking account do the detectives discover the shattering truth: Marlee's parents have both died due to smoking; far from a cynical mercenary, she is in fact a zealous anti-smoking crusader. Thus, Fitch knows that he lost his principals' $10 million in addition to having lost the trial.

Inside the closed jury room, Easter convinces the jury to find for the plaintiff and make a large monetary award– $2 million for compensatory damages, and $400 million for punitive measures. While not able to sway the entire jury,Easter gets nine out of twelve jurors to back him - which is enough, three quarters of the jury being sufficient for a valid verdict in a civil case. The defense lawyers and theiremployers are devastated.

Meanwhile, at the Cayman Islands, Marlee makes use of her certain knowledge that tobacco companies' stocks are going to take a a sharp plunge in order to short-sell them, making an enormous gain on the original $10 million - and Easter, having achieved the goal of the prolonged campaign, quickly disappears from Biloxi and gets altogether out of the US. While Easter and Marlee are now rich and satisfied that they served justice, Fitch realizes that his reputation has been destroyed and that the tobacco companies, once undefeatable, are now vulnerable to lawsuits.

The book closes with Marlee returning the initial $10 million bribe to Fitch, having used it to make several times that much, and warning Fitch that she and Nicholas will always be watching. She explains that she had no intention to steal or lie, and that she cheated only because "That was all your client understood."

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