Welcome to Idaho- We Like People More than Potatoes
Photo used with creative commons license from https://www.flickr.com/photos/akasped
For the last ten days I had the pleasure of serving on a federal jury. I actually mean it when I say pleasure, being a juror is something I have always wanted to do, only falling a slight second to being a bridesmaid. Apparently I’m trusted to be unbiased more than I’m trusted to wear a questionable dress and give toasts. So when I made it through juror questioning I couldn’t help but feel a little twinge of excitement amongst the dread of rearranging two weeks worth of my schedule.
From the jury selection process I knew this was a civil case, claiming breach of contract from a smaller company against the former H.J. Heinz company, now known as KraftHeinz.
My excitement peaked with the idea that we would at least be talking about a substantial amount of money.
My excitement wained within five minutes of the trial starting when I realized what we would actually be talking about.
Or listening about, I should say. There is no talking. No talking to the other jurors, no talking to the lawyers, the clerks, or any of my family and friends. So I had to use all my willpower to NOT turn to the juror sitting three inches away and whisper “wait, are we really hearing a case about potatoes?”
Potatoes. In Idaho. Do they know that I have spent my entire life fighting a stigma against potatoes? Born and raised in Idaho I can’t travel without this potato clout following my every move. Except we weren’t talking about the russet potato that Idaho is known for. No, this was something much more exotic. Sweet potatoes. I spent 10 days of my life learning every facet there is to know about sweet potatoes.
I could talk to you about the curing and storing process. I could talk to you about the ideal brix level necessary to make the sweetest sweet potato products. I could talk to you about cutting, pureeing, freezing, and packaging sweet potatoes. I could practically install a god damn fry line in my kitchen to start producing sweet potato fries!
I have listened to weeks of testimony about potatoes.
I also listened to weeks of testimony about people. Hard working people. Kind people. And some, by my definition, corrupt people. I worked collaboratively with six other people who were as different from me in background and life experience as you can get. We spent our days telling each other bad jokes and trying to make light of what felt like an intense situation. We were brimming with information and overflowing with questions and we had to settle for sharing stories of our families because we could not talk about the things we were hearing.
Being on a jury is hard. It is truly one of hardest mental things I’ve ever accomplished. I had to become an expert on contract law and sweet potatoes all at the same time without being able to research, social media, or talk to anyone about those very subjects.
In the end, we found Heinz guilty of breach of contract and awarded a little under 1 million dollars to Bright Harvest Sweet Potato Company, who they had a co-pack agreement with. It wasn’t enough, but it was what we could do.
I have a few additional charges I’d like to add to the Heinz invoice at this point.
- $800 for the expected dental work as a result of using jolly ranchers and life savers as a coping mechanism for six hours a day.
- $1200 for the gym membership I need as a result of living on pizza and Oreos for two weeks while locked in a 12X12 room.
- $2,000 for the counseling I need as a result of not being able to talk to people for ten days. I couldn’t even share an elevator with anyone! It went against everything my extrovert heart needs to survive.
- $10,000 for having to miss work, miss my kids, and miss my life to hear a case that could have been COMPLETELY avoided if you cared about people more than you cared about product.
- An undisclosed amount of money for being jerks. You should have to pony up for that. The amount of money is undefined because it isn’t too late to reform.
The trial ended up in Idaho because it was thought to be a neutral location for the two companies. I would argue that Idaho’s relationship with Ore-Ida makes that not the case, but regardless we got it. I am actually glad that we did. Here are things that were reaffirmed for me during my work as a juror on this case.
In Idaho, we care about people. We don’t laugh at people who make, and uphold, hand shake agreements. In fact, I think we applaud those who can follow through on a commitment even when there isn’t a potential lawsuit compelling them to do so.
In Idaho, we care about follow-through. If you say you are going to buy product from someone, even if you try to make it as vague and confusing as you can in a contract, we still think you should do it.
In Idaho, we care about honesty. If you withhold information for your own profit, but put your supposed “partners” in danger by doing so, we don’t think you are innocent.
It was barely a slap on the wrist that we were able to award to Bright Harvest at the expense of Heinz, and that certainly disappointed me. However, my love for my state was reaffirmed by the wonderful people I got to serve on a jury with, and the amazing judge, clerks, and other staff that we got to interact with.
So Heinz, welcome to Idaho. I hope you understand, should you want to visit again, that we care about people more than we do potatoes.
Also, now looking for places to submit applications for being a bridesmaid.
(If anyone wants to geek out and read more about the history of this particular case, like I immediately did as soon as I was allowed to, you can find all the documents here)