For the first time in what seemed like weeks, sunlight glinted off the granite steps of the Jackson County Courthouse as Jonathan Harmon and two members of his legal team burst through the doors and outside. Grinning, their dress shoes clattering and blazers flapping, they raced toward 12th Street like stir-crazy kids ditching school.
For four weeks in Circuit Judge Jay A. Daugherty's fifth-floor courtroom, Harmon had worn the serious face that corporate litigation necessitates. Harmon, a lawyer with McGuireWoods LLP, represents Premium Standard Farms, a pork manufacturer that owns large-scale confined-animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in northern Missouri. It was Harmon's job to convince a jury that the stench created by 80,000 hogs living on PSF's Homan Farm in Gentry County, Missouri, was just part of normal country living.
Harmon's opponents contend that the stench is a life-altering nuisance to 15 family farmers who live within a mile and a half of the swine facility.
PSF's lawyers were excited because, on that sunny day, the jury was going on a field trip. A bus would take the jury to Berlin, Missouri, past the homes of each plaintiff and the neighboring hog farm. The purpose was to give the jurors a sense of the properties' proximity, not to detect hog odor — Daugherty had ruled that the bus's windows stay sealed and its air vents kept closed.
While the jury rode around Gentry County, another group of citizens would sit around a table at Dunk's Deli, a few blocks west of the courthouse on 12th Street. They, too, were deliberating the facts of the case. These were shadow jurors. PSF had installed them in the gallery during the trial in order to gauge how effective the plaintiffs' arguments were.
PSF, which has used its pork-manufacturing profits to influence industry-favorable legislation and to fund industry-favorable science, had once again managed to convince people to see things its way. In two hours, the shadow jury returned the verdict that Harmon wanted to hear: Premium Standard Farms was not guilty of creating an odor nuisance.
Unfortunately for PSF, this wasn't the jury that mattered.
The trial began February 3 of this year, and the shadow jury had been there from the start. Most onlookers assumed that the people furiously scribbling notes on the defendant's side of the courtroom were law students or reporters.
Daugherty tells The Pitch that attorneys aren't required to notify him when a shadow jury is present. In his 19 years on the bench in Division 13, he has rarely seen one. "I would assume they are very expensive and obviously time-consuming," he says.
The weekend before the PSF trial's start, employees for a company called Nolan Research made cold calls to Jackson County residents and said they were looking for people to participate in a market-research project. About 50 recruits who'd been promised $50 each went to a meeting at the Embassy Suites hotel near Westport. At the hotel, each was given a questionnaire to fill out and a nondisclosure agreement to sign. On February 2, 13 people received telephoned instructions to show up at the Jackson County Courthouse at 8 a.m. the next morning.
The shadow jurors entered the courtroom at the same time as the real jury and were ushered to the defendants' side of the gallery. They had been instructed not to speak to anyone except one another, which is why those who were interviewed by The Pitch requested that their identities be kept confidential.
An older man with sloping shoulders and quick, darting eyes — the shadow jurors knew him as "Jack" — was the enforcer. During breaks, the shadow jurors were herded into an isolated corner of the fifth-floor hallway. If one of the men had to use the restroom, Jack went with him. Women shadow jurors went in pairs. Any who missed a day of the trial were kicked off the project. Each night, they were expected to wait by the phone for a call from L&E Research, a company based in Raleigh, North Carolina. The caller would survey their opinions of the day's proceedings.