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Inside The Courtroom: A $6 Million Wrongful Death Lawsuit

ST. PAUL (WCCO) -- With a slam of the gavel, a courtroom clerk asked the courtroom audience to their feet.

"All rise, Ramsey County District Court is now in session. The Honorable Margaret Marrinan presiding, please be seated," the clerk recited loudly.

In a wood paneled 14th floor courtroom, Marrinan brings a motions hearing to order. Because the motion to vacate another judge's summary judgment was made by the defendant, Aaron Foster, his attorney will provide the initial arguments.

"We're here in court today on a motion to vacate the $6 million default judgment obtained by publication," said Attorney Sean Skrypek.

Skrypek's client is being sued by the family of Barbara Winn, claiming Foster was responsible for her wrongful 1981 shooting death. Foster did not appear in the courtroom for the hearing on his behalf.

"The plaintiffs need to prove that Mr. Foster committed an intentional act contributing to her murder," said Skrypek.

Foster wants the judgment dismissed, claiming he wasn't personally served civil papers notifying him of their suit. In addition, the defense argues that under Minnesota law, a civil action of this kind must be filed within a three-year window of the person's death. Under that interpretation of the statute, the limitation for filing such an action would have expired back in 1984.

However, the plaintiff's attorney, David Schultz, argues that the motion to vacate the judgment is without merit.

"It's the right thing to do to let the judgment stand that Mr. Foster is civilly liable for the murder of Barbara Winn," said Schultz.

Schultz represents Winn's family. Many of Winn's family attended the hearing and were seated in the front row.

Schultz argued that Foster made it impossible to be served with the civil court papers. Furthermore, he told Judge Marrinan the three-year statute of limitations does not apply in this case.

After about 40 minutes of back and forth arguments, Marrinan spoke decisively about the four factors she has to consider in order to rule on the motion. But clearly, Marrinan concluded, she has a problem with how defendant Foster avoided being served papers.

"I am not convinced Mr. Foster has a reasonable excuse for his failure to act," said Marrinan.

Afterwards, Schultz said he didn't notice cameras that were placed in the jury box, recording the proceedings.

Schultz argues that more exposure of the judicial process is beneficial to our understanding of the system.

"It all contributes to fostering respect for the law and the more people to have that exposure, the better we all are," said Schultz.

The hearing concluded after about 45 minutes. Marrinan will take the arguments under advisement, to further research the motion, then issue her ruling. She seemed pleased at how obscure both ours and the Pioneer Press cameras were during the proceeding.

WCCO-TV will continue to pursue the pilot project as much as cases and judges allow.

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