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All Children’s seeks retrial in Maya case, claims juror misconduct

Hospital attorneys ask for new trial and investigation in light of social media posts by jury foreman and his wife.
 
Maya Kowalski smiles at her attorneys after a jury awarded the Kowalski family more than $261 million in damages against Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital. Attorneys from the hospital this week filed a motion seeking a retrial based on alleged misconduct by a juror.
Maya Kowalski smiles at her attorneys after a jury awarded the Kowalski family more than $261 million in damages against Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital. Attorneys from the hospital this week filed a motion seeking a retrial based on alleged misconduct by a juror. [ MIKE LANG | Sarasota Herald-Tribune ]
Published Nov. 22, 2023|Updated Nov. 23, 2023

Nearly two weeks after a jury awarded $261 million in damages against Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, its attorneys on Wednesday filed for a retrial in a motion that accused the jury foreman of violating strict conduct rules during the trial.

In a motion filed in Sarasota County, hospital attorneys claimed that during the trial, juror Paul Lengyel shared information about the case with his wife, who then shared it on social media platforms. Yolanda Lengyel also attended at least one day of the trial in Venice, meaning she could have heard attorney discussions with the judge that were made outside of the jury’s presence, the motion states.

In a decision that gained national and international attention, partly because the case had been popularized in a Netflix documentary film, the jury found that All Children’s in 2016 falsely imprisoned and battered Maya Kowalski, a 10-year-old Venice girl, and contributed to her mother’s suicide.

During the trial, Yolanda Lengyel frequently posted on live YouTube feeds of the trial and in a Facebook chat group largely supportive of the Kowalski family. Screengrabs from social media included in the legal filing show that Yolanda Lengyel met with a social media influencer known as Jules, who, the motion states, is connected to the Kowalski family. It cites as evidence a video Jules posted on her TikTok page stating that she gave Maya Kowalski her rosary beads before Maya’s live testimony on Oct. 9.

Yolanda Lengyel also posted on social media about questions her husband intended to ask of witnesses and about a juror note sent while the jury was deliberating, the motion states.

Jurors were reminded multiple times every day not to talk about the case or to read media coverage of the trial. The motion asks for a retrial and for an interview and investigation of Lengyel to identify other possible misconduct.

“The evidence reveals a shocking level of involvement in the case and palpable bias in favor of plaintiffs on the part of Juror #1′s wife, Mrs. Lengyel, as well as social media posts sharing ‘inside’ information Mrs. Lengyel could only have obtained from her husband,” the motion states.

Nick Whitney, one of the attorneys who represented the Kowalski family, said they will be filing a response by the court’s deadline of Monday at 4 p.m. He declined to comment further.

Hospital attorneys had previously tried to get Lengyel removed from the jury in the final week of testimony. They filed a motion that stated his questions to witnesses showed he had made up his mind about the case before all the evidence was presented. Judge Hunter Carroll ruled against the motion, saying he saw no evidence to support it.

Lengyel’s jury form states that before retiring he worked as a law enforcement officer in the city of Hialeah and has lived in Sarasota County for 11 years. Lengyel posted on social media after the trial, including a mock picture of Carroll in battle gear in front of a smoking All Children’s building, saying, “I went and got the IJ documents myself,” an apparent reference to an immediate jeopardy finding from a review of All Children’s that was presented as evidence during the trial.

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He could not be reached for comment.

A social media post made by juror Paul Lengyel after the conclusion of the jury trial over Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital's treatment of Maya Kowalski and her family.
A social media post made by juror Paul Lengyel after the conclusion of the jury trial over Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital's treatment of Maya Kowalski and her family. [ Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital ]

In a separate motion also filed this week, hospital attorneys claimed that the Kowalskis’ attorneys misled jurors to award the family an incorrect amount of money. The filing described wrongful death damages of more than $100 million as “patently excessive.”

The Kowalskis sued All Children’s in 2018 over the treatment of Maya Kowalski and her family after an October 2016 emergency room visit. The girl’s mother, Beata Kowalski, took her own life after Maya was removed by the state and sheltered at All Children’s for three months.

The case was the subject of the Netflix documentary “Take Care of Maya,” which was viewed almost 14 million times in two weeks following its June release.