Hilliard said he was blindsided by the check stub.
“There were no red flags,” he said. He had sent a team to Oklahoma for three days to conduct interviews with the Scheuers. “We interviewed all his doctors. I stayed with him for a day.” GM itself would never have learned about the stub, Hilliard said, “but for one p---ed-off Realtor.”
One thing that p---ed-off Realtor doesn’t understand about the Scheuers: “I don’t know how they were ever chosen for that case,” Kleven said.
The Scheuer case was one of six bellwether ignition-switch trials scheduled for Manhattan federal court this year to help plaintiffs and GM test strategies and calibrate settlements. The bungled lawsuit was actually chosen by the plaintiffs as the first of the bellwethers. Hilliard maintains that Robert Scheuer’s accident bore every hallmark of a “textbook bellwether.”
Then there was that dream house. The Scheuers had offered a variety of reasons why the eviction was GM’s fault -- that memory loss from the crash had caused Robert to misplace a check for the down payment, that his injuries had prevented him from working overtime so he could afford the house.
Confronting Scheuer on the witness stand with Kleven’s evidence for the first time, Mike Brock, a lawyer for GM, repeatedly asked him why he had lost the house if he had more than $441,000 in his bank account to cover its purchase. Scheuer, just two days into the trial, repeatedly said he couldn’t remember the details because of his pain medication.
At one point Brock asked whether Scheuer had put the public at risk by driving around Tulsa on drugs that apparently left him with no memory of a three-month time period.
“I can’t -- I don’t know,” Scheuer said. “I didn’t hit anybody.”
Your guy lied
The house “was just part of the color of the story,” said Hilliard, 57. It was never intended as an important part of the case. He said he was baffled when GM’s lawyers, cross-examining Lisa Scheuer, asked her in detail about e-mails between her and Kleven. That exchange took place after the real estate agent had called GM but before Hilliard knew about it. “I didn’t understand where they were going with it,” he said.
It wasn’t until Jan. 17, five days after the trial opened, he said, that GM contacted him to say, “We think your guy lied about the house.”
In a moment of black humor after learning that the Scheuers had hired separate criminal defense attorneys, Judge Furman wondered aloud whether Lisa Scheuer, if forced to take the stand again, might “throw her husband under the proverbial bus, or GM car.”
GM initially met Kleven’s call with reservations, since many people offer information in highly publicized cases that doesn’t pan out, spokesman James Cain said. But the claims were intriguing enough for the company’s trial lawyers in New York to send a forensic technology investigator and two lawyers to Tulsa to verify them, searching the text messages and e-mails even as the trial continued.
The real estate agent’s story dovetailed with suspicions GM had had about Scheuer all along, including his foggy recollection of the dream house debacle, Cain said.
“Things that we didn’t understand became crystal clear the longer we talked to Mr. Kleven, and we became more confident in his story, since he had page after page of evidence. It was amazing,” Cain said. “Your goal is always to make sure the truth comes out, and we were confident.”
Kleven described to GM’s lawyers how he began to lose patience with the Scheuers and their $441,430.72 check stub, from Robert’s federal government retirement plan, when the cash failed to materialize. Scheuer continued to say the check had been deposited, while offering various excuses for delays in accessing the funds, according to Kleven.
Finally, Kleven arranged to meet Scheuer at his bank to find out just where the money was. He sat next to Scheuer in a meeting in one of the bankers’ offices, he told GM.
“We sat in the two chairs in front of his desk, and [the banker] said there has never been a deposit by you of this amount at this bank, or any location,” Kleven recalled. “That was the end.”