If only you weren’t so greedy…
Two sisters in their eighties have been in the news for years as they keep fighting over a $250,000 lottery win. Theresa Sokaitis (age 80-something) and Rose Bakaysa (age 87) had gambled together for years and drew up a contract to share their winnings after a $165,000 win at a casino in 1995. But in 2004, the sisters had a bitter dispute over $250.00 (or maybe it was $100.00) one had loaned the other and they have not spoken since.
Rose Bakaysa (who won the $250K as her half of a $500,000 winning ticket she purchased with her 84 year old brother, Joseph) says during that 2004 fight they rescinded their gambling partnership. Her sister Theresa Sokaitis says they did no such thing and Rose is obligated to give Theresa half of the winnings. This fight has made it to the Connecticut Supreme Court and continues to this day. (Although the Connecticut Supremes found in favor of the lucky sister, Rose.)
Concurring Opinions blog posts the complete text of a letter Theresa sent to Rose and we post an excerpt below:
I hope you get this letter because I have plenty to say. The most important thing is I am so sick over what is happening with you and I going to court. None of this would have happened if you were not so greedy . . . All I know is we should both be ashamed of ourselves. We are sisters. Going to court is not right. All I know is I am entitled to my share of the money and you know it. [snip]
Take care of yourself. Mom would be sick over all of this. It would never happen if you at least shared some of the money with me. Do you think I would have done that to you? Never . . .
See you in court.
As the sisters fight on, we point to a common counter-factual in Theresa’s (aka Terry) letter to Rose. “If only you hadn’t been so greedy”…
This line of thinking is a consistent one we see in jurors’ reactions to case narratives. We’ve written about this before in the context of helping jurors to see the frame through which you would like them to view your case. In the case of these sisters, there is the issue of a contract dispute but it’s likely secondary to the family relationship that has been severed.
It’s always sad when family matters end up in litigation. We’ve worked on a fair number of family disputes (usually between members of very wealthy families) and the mock jurors reactions are almost always the same. It has never mattered whether it was a dispute over inheritance, family business income, contractual disputes, or a high-stakes divorce. Mock jurors consistently express the same reactions you likely have in reading about the tale of these two sisters.
“This isn’t right. Blood is thicker than money. [?] They should put this behind them and start again.”
“Let’s throw this case out and direct them to a family counselor to repair the damaged relationships.”
“This is just ridiculous. They aren’t really fighting over the money. They’re fighting over their hurt feelings.”
In Texas (and everywhere else) families are important to jurors. As we have noted countless times before, jurors want to fix problems and make the world a better place. There is no resolution to this dispute that will leave jurors feeling that the special bond between sisters is repaired, and that is, of course, what they want to see. While they are intrigued by the drama, they are ultimately heart-sick at the toxicity and finger-pointing. Jurors don’t feel good about being moral arbiters between family members.
As an advocate for your client, you have a very fine line to walk. Like the mothers before King Solomon fighting over the child, they want to see who is more open to higher values, to compromise, and healthy rapprochement instead of naked greed. Jurors are going to watch you to see if you (and your client) are about grabbing the money or about what is fair and right.