The Truth Comes Out in Court

Claire Fernandez  is a Lead Articles Editor on Law Review, a Burks Scholar Writing Fellow, and the former secretary of LALSA.  Claire spent the first half of her summer working for a judge at the Fourteenth Court of Appeals in Houston, Texas.   She will spend the next six weeks working for Judge Frances Stacy, also in Houston, who is a federal magistrate judge for the Southern District of Texas.

As some of you may recall, I spent the first six weeks of the summer drafting opinions for Justice Jeff Brown at the Fourteenth Court of Appeals in Houston.  For the past few weeks, I’ve been working for Magistrate Judge Frances Stacy at the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas.  My transition was a relatively smooth one as both positions required extensive legal research and writing to produce draft opinions.

However, Judge Stacy and her clerks also encouraged me to spend some time watching federal trials.  Luckily for me, my first week coincided with the end of the Jamie Leigh Jones v. Halliburton trial, which the media took significant interest in, especially in Houston.  Ms. Jones worked for KBR, a former Halliburton subsidiary, when she was sent to Iraq for an assignment and allegedly gang raped.  The case had already gone all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve an issue regarding an arbitration agreement in Ms. Jones’s employment contract.  The Court concluded that Ms. Jones’s claims were outside the scope of her employment contract and that she therefore had the right to litigate her claims in federal court, at which point her case came to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

The case began two weeks before I arrived at the court, but I was fortunate to have the opportunity to watch the last few days of the trial.  I had already read a number of news reports on the case, but I was absolutely shocked to hear how different the evidence presented at trial was from the story presented by the media.  Without going into the details of the case, the media reported several allegations Ms. Jones made at various points throughout the past several years.  However, the trial showed that most of her claims were unsubstantiated at best, and directly contradicted by factual evidence at worst.  (An interesting article that illustrates this can be found here http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/07/kbr-could-win-jamie-leigh-jones-rape-trial).  The jury ultimately returned a verdict favoring the defendants, concluding Ms. Jones was not raped and KBR was not liable for the numerous allegations Ms. Jones charged them with.  Although I knew the news reports I read may not have been fully reliable, I was very surprised to see firsthand just how unreliable they actually were.

The opportunity to watch this trial allowed me to observe litigation tactics by some of the most successful attorneys in Houston.   It also illustrated how much the media will stretch a story to make it newsworthy and present information as fact when the evidence does not support such reports.  While I’m enjoying the opportunity to continue improving my legal research and writing skills at this internship, watching the Halliburton case has definitely been the most interesting part of the internship thus far.

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