New trial ordered after jurors googled litigant's past

By Chandra Lye | May 12, 2017

HARRISBURG — The state Superior Court recently affirmed a decision by a trial court to allow a new trial to proceed in a dispute that involves jurors accessing information that was not permitted by the court.

The appeal of the trial court decision was made by Charles J. Pupich, who had been in a legal dispute with a former tenant, Joseph A. Piole. The jury in the case decided in favor of Pupich, but the Superior Court on April 27 allowed for a new trial. 

The opinion says there was evidence that jurors “improperly searched the internet and found criminal charges of income tax evasion against Mr. Piole.” 

Piole had owned the building at one time but lost it due to money he owed to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Pupich bought the building in 2000 and allowed Piole to lease it in 2001. In September 2004, there was a fire that damaged much of the building and its contents. 

Although neither party was found responsible for the fire, there was a clause in the lease agreement that allowed Pupich to notify Piole that he wanted to terminate the lease. Notice was to be delivered within 45 days of the fire, but it was not delivered until December 2004. 

In 2006, Piole sued Pupich for breach of contract because he was not notified within the 45 days.

It was agreed before the jury trial started that because Piole’s criminal charges were more than 20 years old, they were not relevant and would not be mentioned during the case.

Following the jury’s decision, Piole requested trial relief, alleging jurors used a cell phone to find the criminal charges against him online.

“The witnesses at the hearings were the jury’s foreman [Juror 5], two other jurors [Jurors 7 and 9] who allegedly found Mr. Piole’s tax evasion arrest on a cell phone, a non-juror [named Lori Sarver], who allegedly witnessed the two jurors searching the internet for Mr. Piole," according to court documents

Piole was granted a new trial, and Pupich submitted a timely appeal. 

The Superior Court affirmed the decision to allow the new trial.  

“Despite Mr. Pupich’s contentions, we deem the trial court’s reasoning to be more compelling,” the opinion says.

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