Witness Testimony Ends in Secondhand Smoke Trial

Last time, an earthquake struck, this time a transcript delayed the secondhand smoke trial before closing arguments could be heard on Monday.

When asked whether it was unusual to delay closing arguments for so long after witness testimony Greenbelt Homes Inc. defense attorney Jason Fisher replied, “Nothing is usual in this case.”

Instead of hearing closing arguments, Judge Albert Northrop decided to grant a motion to the plaintiff, David Schuman, to allow his attorney, J.P. Szymkowicz, to review the full transcript from the trial, David S. Schuman v. Greenbelt Homes, Inc., et al. He rescheduled closing arguments for November 3, at 9 a.m., to continue in the Prince George’s County Circuit Court.



“The trial went on for six days,” said Szymkowicz, “There was a lot of testimony. In order to get the facts correct for the judge to make a decision and for us to argue on, we asked the judge to consider oral arguments after the transcript was filed.”

Fisher said he was surprised by the move. He said normally a judge hears the witness testimony, listens to closing arguments, takes the case under advisement to review the facts and then a ruling is issued, either in writing or before the court. Fisher said this was the first time he had seen closing arguments delayed for a month and a half after the end of witness testimony.

Szymkowicz agreed that it was unusual, but said the move wasn’t unheard of.

“I don’t know about a month and a half,” said Szymkowicz, “But I have had other cases where you have the testimony court part and then you wait for a transcript to make your arguments.”

Transcripts are not always requested, said Szymkowicz, and they have to be purchased. Because the plaintiff requested the transcript, Schuman was responsible for paying the $4,000 to the court reporter so she could prepare it.

“Since I needed it, I had to pay for it,” said Schuman outside the courtroom.

Despite the delay, the trial made some progress on Monday and came to the end of witness testimony.

The plaintiff called three rebuttal witnesses to the stand, Gretchen Overdurff, as a representative of GHI, David Schuman, and James Repace, the biophysicist and expert witness for the plaintiff.

Szymkowicz questioned Overdurff about whether GHI informed Schuman about further administrative remedies he could take to solve the secondhand smoke problem in his unit.

Two previous witnesses, past GHI board president Sylvia Lewis and current board president Tokey Boswell, testified that Schuman could have petitioned members of the cooperative to hold a special meeting on the issue if he wasn’t satisfied with the member complaint panel’s decision, which recommended that he work it out with the Popovics.

After being questioned by Szymkowicz, Overdurff stated that she was not aware of a situation taken to the membership when one member had a grievance against another. But she said that it was possible to do so.

“It would have been nice if GHI would have told me that at some point in the process,” Schuman said, outside of the courtroom, “but they never did.”

Schuman has stated throughout the case that he’s not interested in a rule banning smoking in all GHI units, he is just interested in keeping his home smoke-free.

Schuman is suing GHI for neglecting to solve the nuisance problem caused by his neighbors’, secondhand smoke. Schuman said he was suing the Popovics because they’ve created a nuisance, which is prohibited in GHI’s Mutual Ownership Contract.

Schuman is suing each party, “jointly and severally,” for $300,000 in compensatory damages.

James Repace, the secondhand smoke scientist and plaintiff’s expert witness, took the stand to clarify some earlier points and rebut the testimony of the defense’s expert witness, Dr. Ronald Gots.

He reiterated his belief that that the doubling of particulates recorded by the monitor inside Schuman’s unit while Darko Popovic was smoking outside — proved that smoke was entering the residence.

Despite the monitor having previously recorded the same amount of possible carcinogenic particulates in the air in the smoke-free courthouse as it had in Schuman’s unit, Repace stuck with his claim. He said the air in the courthouse may have been polluted by a number of diesel buses operating outside.

Repace also testified that Gots might have bias due to his company’s previous connections to the tobacco company, R.J. Reynolds. Fisher quickly objected to the assertion, but Northrop allowed it.

Repace said that three members of International Center for Toxicology and Medicine, which Gots heads up, had their testimony dismissed from a case against Philip Morris because it was discovered they had been paid lobbyists for years.

Once all the witness testimony came to an end, Judge Northrop said he was going to review the information presented in trial and hopefully issue a ruling after closing arguments on Nov. 3.

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