Record files complaint regarding stolen papers

Marilyn Tennissen May 15, 2008, 10:44am

When Jerry Little, an employee of Reaud, Morgan & Quinn Law Firm, was confronted about stealing copies of the Southeast Texas Record in March, he replied "if I've committed a crime, then charge me."

On May 9, the Record did just that, accusing Little of theft as part of a sworn affidavit submitted to the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department and the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office.

As the Record reported in March, copies of the Southeast Texas Record were being stolen from the news rack in front of the Jefferson County Courthouse while the paper was covering an asbestos trial against DuPont. Glen Morgan, a partner at Reaud, Morgan & Quinn, was representing the plaintiff in the trial.

Little was observed taking at least 100 copies of the Southeast Texas Record from the rack, and over a six week period thousands of the papers were missing. When the Record staff confronted Little, he freely admitted that he had been taking the papers and vowed he continue.

The trial involved the chemical company and the family of a former employee, Willis Whisnant. The family alleged that Whisnant died from exposure to asbestos at the DuPont facility in Beaumont.

Plaintiff's attorney Glen Morgan said DuPont's past asbestos safety policies had been so egregious that the company had no right to exist. But a Jefferson County jury did not agree, and on March 25 found no negligence on the part of DuPont in the death of Whisnant.

The paper published several articles and editorials each week during the duration of the trial. During that time, Record employees noticed its news rack was regularly being emptied as soon as it was filled each Monday.

On Monday, March 17, Record staffers began surveillance of its courthouse news rack to see what was happening to the weekly papers, and witnessed a man removing the papers from the rack and throwing them in the trash in the men's restroom. After replenishing the rack, a Record employee again saw the man take the papers and the man identified himself as Jerry Little.

Although the first copy of the Record is available for free, additional copies are $1 each, making the theft of hundreds of copies over six weeks a loss of thousands of dollars to the Record.

"The Record is distributed free of charge, but is not a free publication," the affidavit states. "It takes a substantial sum every week to compile the information and to publish and distribute the newspaper. Most costs are paid by advertisements placed by merchants and other commercial interests. Our advertisers advertise with us in order to reach our readers; stealing the papers prevents their ads from being read.

"While he was engaged in this conduct, Mr. Little deprived a significant segment of the public of legal news and information otherwise provided by The Record. He also deprived those who advertised in the newspaper of the benefit of their advertising purchases. Mr. Little thereby frustrated The Record's efforts to fulfill its mission of providing timely and accurate legal news information to the community.

"Mr. Little's actions constitute the crime of theft, and The Record is prepared to participate fully in Mr. Little's prosecution."

On May 9, Glen Morgan submitted a motion to Judge Donald Floyd, asking that the verdict in favor of DuPont be dismissed and a new trial ordered. Morgan claims the jurors erred in finding that Whisnant's exposure to asbestos was not due to negligence on the part of DuPont.

He stated that the verdict was contrary to the weight of the evidence and that the jurors must have been exposed to an "outside influence" that impacted their decision. Morgan named the Southeast Texas Record as that outside influence.

A hearing on the motion for a new trial is scheduled for May 16.

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