The losing party is allowed to ask the judge for a new trial or for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (often called a judgment n.o.v., from the Latinnon obstante veredicto). A judge who decides that a directed verdict is appropriate will usually wait to see what the jury’s verdict is. If it is favorable to the party the judge thinks should win, she can rely on that verdict. If the verdict is for the other party, he can grant the motion for judgment n.o.v. This is a safer way to proceed because if the judge is reversed on appeal, a new trial is not necessary. The jury’s verdict always can be restored, whereas without a jury verdict (as happens when a directed verdict is granted before the case goes to the jury), the entire case must be presented to a new jury. Ferlito v. Johnson & Johnson ( Cases ) illustrates the judgment n.o.v. process in a case where the judge allowed the case to go to a jury that was overly sympathetic to the plaintiffs.
Rule 50(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides the authorization for federal judges making a judgment contrary to the judgment of the jury. Most states have a similar rule.
Rule 50(b) says,
Whenever a motion for a directed verdict made at the close of all the evidence is denied or for any reason is not granted, the court is deemed to have submitted the action to the jury subject to a later determination of the legal questions raised by the motion. Not later than 10 days after entry of judgment, a party who has moved for a directed verdict may move to have the verdict and any judgment entered thereon set aside and to have judgment entered in accordance with the party’s motion for a directed verdict.…[A] new trial may be prayed for in the alternative. If a verdict was returned the court may allow the judgment to stand or may reopen the judgment and either order a new trial or direct the entry of judgment as if the requested verdict had been directed.
The purpose of a trial judge is to ensure justice to all parties to the lawsuit. The judge presides, instructs the jury, and may limit who testifies and what they testify about what. In all of this, the judge will usually commit some errors; occasionally these will be the kinds of errors that seriously compromise a fair trial for both parties. Errors that do seriously compromise a fair trial for both parties are prejudicial, as opposed to harmless. The appeals court must decide whether any errors of the trial court judge are prejudicial or not.
If a judge directs a verdict, that ends the case for the party who hasn’t asked for one; if a judge grants judgment n.o.v., that will take away a jury verdict that one side has worked very hard to get. Thus a judge must be careful not to unduly favor one side or the other, regardless of his or her sympathies.
- What if there was not a doctrine of res judicata? What would the legal system be like?
- Why do you think cross-examination is a “right,” as opposed to a “good thing”? What kind of judicial system would not allow cross-examination of witnesses as a matter of right?