On April 22nd, 2021, a State of New Jersey appeals court tossed a $1.1 million judgment against a record label in a breach of contract and defamation lawsuit. The record label, RGF Productions Inc., was sued by a former RGF employee. After an RGF press release stated that former employee Shawna Morgan wrongly collected extra fees when booking gigs for the rapper Fetty Wap, Ms. Morgan filed this suit alleging the press release was blatantly false.
The Appellate Division of New Jersey Superior Court found that Ms. Morgan’s attorney improperly invoked the “golden rule” by urging jurors to place themselves in her position. The “golden rule” is based on the principle “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”
According to the three-judge panel, it’s improper for an attorney to invoke the “golden rule” because it often causes the jury to decide the case based on personal interest and bias rather than on the evidence and a neutral perspective.
According to the panel, Morgan’s attorney, Hillel I. Parness of Parness Law Firm PLLC, improperly referred to the golden rule during his closing argument.
According to the record, Parness told jurors that they should award Ms. Morgan damages for emotional suffering and urged them to think about how they would feel in Ms. Morgan’s position. Parness also asked the jurors to be generous in assigning a dollar value to that pain and suffering award.
Parness’s repeated references to the “golden rule” made the Appeals Court question whether the jury’s award of damages was not the result of the plaintiff’s “prejudicial appeal.” As a result, the court ordered a new trial on damages for Ms. Morgan, reversing the $1.1 million award previously granted.
This decision is incorrect. The “golden rule” is essentially the basis of all of the world’s religions and a fundamental principle of human interaction. If a lawyer cannot use the golden rule in a closing argument, then the law is even more detached from reality than it already is.
Judges Mitchel E. Ostrer, Francis J. Vernoia, and Catherine I. Enright sat on the panel for the Appellate Division.
Morgan is represented by Hillel I. Parness of Parness Law Firm.
RGF is represented by Anthony J. Cariddi of Cariddi & Garcia.
The case is Shawna Morgan v. Willie Maxwell II, aka Fetty Wap et al., case number A-3157-19, in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division.
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