YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Jury's Award in Lockheed Case Rejected : Courts: Judge overturns verdict giving $45.3 million to three former employees of the aircraft manufacturer. One of the jurors had been convicted of a felony.


A Los Angeles Superior Court judge Tuesday threw out the verdict awarding $45.3 million to three former Lockheed employees who had been fired after telling management that the firm's C-5B aircraft appeared defective and unsafe.

Judge Harvey Schneider said he granted a new trial because one of the jurors failed to disclose that he had been convicted of a felony.

The juror, Tresavan Owens, had said on a jury form that he had never been convicted of a felony. Lockheed attorneys said they later learned that the man had pleaded guilty to burglary in Lauderdale County, Miss., in 1962.

The Lockheed judgment was thought to have been the largest legal award ever involving a defense firm.

The employees--two internal auditors and a quality assurance representative--were fired in 1985 by then-Lockheed Chairman Lawrence O. Kitchen after they had attempted to convince Kitchen that the giant Air Force cargo plane was seriously flawed. They sued for wrongful termination and won their case last November. The Air Force has maintained that the aircraft is not defective.

Lockheed spokesman Joseph G. Twomey, Lockheed vice president and general counsel, said: "We are confident that we will prevail in a new trial. The earlier verdict could not be justified factually or legally." He expressed disappointment, however, that the court rejected several other reasons for Lockheed's motion for a new trial.

Phillip E. Benson, an attorney for two of the employees, said that the plaintiffs will appeal the ruling. He noted that the judge did not dispute the factual issues in the case and found no fault with the amount of punitive damages awarded by the jury.

Benson said he believes that the juror's arrest was illegal because he was not provided legal representation--and therefore he was eligible to serve on the jury. That contention, the attorney said, will be the basis for an appeal by the plaintiffs.

Benson said that the juror's criminal record is a novel legal issue and that he believes the judge wanted an appeals court to make the final ruling.

Gordon Krischer, Lockheed's attorney, said the company also may file an appeal on the ruling. The judge, he said, "ruled only on one issue and we thought he should have ruled on several issues."

In addition to seeking a new trial, Lockheed had requested that the judge issue a judgment in Lockheed's favor.

"All the issues in the case will be looked at on appeal," Krischer said. "The verdict itself was an outrage."

The three Lockheed employees alleged that improper heat treating of the main frames of the C-5B at Lockheed's plant in Burbank resulted in cracking, warping and other deformities, starting in 1983. The auditors, Clyde W. Jones Jr. and Terrence F. Schielke, said they were instructed by audit department executives not to undertake a formal investigation or write a report about the allegations, but they continued to attempt to sound warnings.

The two auditors and plaintiff Thomas R. Benecke, a quality assurance expert, met with Kitchen and disclosed that they had hired an outside metallurgist at their own expense and had found that samples of the parts were defective.

Kitchen testified that he personally fired Schielke and Benecke because they acted unprofessionally, failed to conduct a formal audit of their own allegations and took property off company premises.

Los Angeles Times Articles