Friday, May 1, 2009

CBS vs. Smothers Brothers

In a jury trial, if the jury blatantly hands out a wrong verdict, can the judge be the judge of whether the jury was nuts?

Let's say I shoot my husband dead and it's captured on video tape.

For some reason, the jury says I'm not guilty whatsoever.

Can the judge basically judge the jury's verdict as being just plain wrong? Just throw it out?

That's been on my mind ever since I watched Pioneers of Television recently and they were highlighting Variety Shows. Specifically, the half hour I watched was focused on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

In short, it was the 1970's and The Smothers Brothers kept pushing the envelope on what was "appropriate content", using satire to target racism, the President of the U.S., and the Vitenam War. Wikipedia does a much better job explaining all of the details if you're actually interested.

Well, CBS cancelled the show. The Smothers Brothers sued CBS for breach of contract.

Apparently there was language in the contract (or was there? this is the part that's unclear to me) about the tape getting to CBS by a certain time, and the Smothers Brothers were violating that part of the contract that stipulated that the tape was supposed to be delivered to CBS within a certain period of time. CBS needed time to censor/edit the tape before broadcast time.

So The Smothers Brothers sued. And they won!

I was shocked.

Apparently, so were the CBS lawyers.

Does anybody study this case in law school? Is this a famous case, or does it not rank as worthy of discussion? Just seemed to me to be a blatant abuse of power by the jury. Couldn't the judge say, hey jury, you're full of it, I'm throwing out your verdict 'cause obviously you're not paying attention whatsoever to what a contract is or what the language stipulated.

I thought I heard ('cause I remember being surprised) that just 'cause a jury says you're guilty or not guilty, that utlimately, that is just a recommendation that the judge does not have to base his ruling on. The judge can overrule a jury. Is that bs? Or is that possible?


A Lawyer Mom's Musings said...

We didn't read that case in law school. Unless, of course, I was asleep. Which is entirely likely. It may not be as emphasized because, per your post, it was a jury verdict? That wasn't appealed? Not sure. But it's certainly interesting.

gudnuff said...

My husband says a judge can overrule the jury's recommendation during the penalty phase of a trial, but not the verdict itself. Maybe that is what surprised me. I still wonder what the actual language of the contract said. Seems to me that CBS had a legal right to cancel the show and it makes no sense that the jury would have said that it was CBS that violated the contract. But I must be wrong, because otherwise, why wouldn't CBS have counter-sued the Smothers for breach of contract? Right?

Patois said...

Can't help you in anyway. Did want to say, though, that I always loved watching them, even if most of it went over my head. (Apparently.)`

newduck said...

The judge can, more or less, overrule the jury's verdict, in very limited circumstances. Google the terms "directed verdict" (not exactly what you're looking for, but close) and "judgment notwithstanding the verdict" (right on point). has a good explanation of it:

gudnuff said...

Thanks New Duck! Knowing what to's all rooted in language.