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Judge declines to investigate juror misconduct claims in corporate espionage case

The Virginia judge left in place a $2 billion verdict against a software company accused of stealing corporate secrets from a competitor.

FAIRFAX, Va. (CN) — The jury that awarded a McLean, Virginia-based tech firm $2 billion in a corporate espionage trial will not be the target of a judicial investigation.

While one juror researched information outside the courtroom, Fairfax County Circuit Judge Richard E. Gardiner ruled from the bench Thursday not to set aside the massive verdict won by Appian Corp. against Pegasystems in May.

The Appian case is the second high-profile trial in Fairfax County that ended with attorneys accusing jurors of misconduct -- the first being the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard defamation case, decided in June. The judge in that case also declined to investigate jurors.

Appian, a business software developer, won what is believed to be the biggest award in Virginia state court history after a seven-week trial that ended May 10.

The case revolved around Appian's charges that Pegasystems, a rival firm, gained access to trade secrets – specifically, software – in a complicated scheme. Pegasystems allegedly identified an employee who worked for an Appian business partner so that payment for the spy scheme was funneled through a middleman company, according to a complaint filed in May 2020. Outside of work hours, this employee "downloaded confidential Appian documentation from Appian's password protected site for turnover to Pegasystems," the lawsuit charged.

Appian was successful at trial, securing a $2.036 billion award. But in the weeks that followed, Pegasystems reached out to jurors about their verdict.

One juror reported that the jury could not reach a unanimous decision about damages to which Appian was entitled during deliberations on May 6, a Friday. When the jury returned on Monday, one of the jurors informed the group that “he had conducted some internet research related to the case over the weekend." The juror told the others that he had “looked up the Pegasystems stock price” and that the company’s CEO, Alan Trefler, "could afford to pay high amount of damages." The jurors then delivered the massive verdict.

During a hearing on Pegasystems' motion for judicial investigation Thursday, the company's attorney Michael Finney of Gentry Locke argued that "different information was brought to bear in the jury room."

Jurors are typically warned against researching the case. Indeed, during the Appian trial, jurors were told repeatedly that they must "decide this case based solely on the evidence presented here within the courtroom."

Finney said that at least one juror – the offending juror – was influenced by outside information.

"It had significance to him," the attorney said, asking the judge get to the bottom of what transpired.

But an attorney for Appian, Adeel Mangi of Patterson Belknap, argued that Virginia law is historically protective of jury deliberations, likening the deliberation room to a black box. The jurors in this case were an "attentive, focused jury," he said, adding, "Now, we're going to call them back and put them on trial?"

In making his decision not to investigate the claims of juror misconduct, Gardiner noted that the jury had other information about the company's value.

Trefler, the Pegasystems CEO, had testified about his wealth during the trial, noting that he owned “just north of 40 million shares in Pegasystems” that were worth a total of $3 billion, according to an Appian filing, so his wealth wouldn’t have been news to the rest of the jury.

The information the juror provided was essentially more of the same.

"It's not a basis to set aside the verdict," Gardiner remarked.

Pegasystems has other post-trial motions still under consideration. 

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