Last week I spent Monday through Wednesday performing my civic duty as a juror in a civil trial. A few observations follow, skip down the most entertaining one.
At least two of the dullest crayons in our box barely had the cognitive capacity to determine where on the block the courthouse is. If I’m ever the defendant in a jury trial, I’d like to insist that my “peers” at least be able to pass a Turing test.
The jurors’ instructions are to not form or reveal an opinion until deliberations; we are supposed to only absorb knowledge about the presented evidence and testimony and delay applying reason. As I learn new facts I not only evaluate their credibility, but apply them to my little model of the world to find out whether they fit, and to adjust the model to make room if necessary. It’s just not possible for me to remain opinionless until the “think” lamp is lit. Nor is it possible for many others to not talk about the case, apparently.
What bizarre set of historic decisions led to a court reporter listening and re-speaking every word uttered into a gas-mask like microphone, where speech-recognition software converts it to text?
The attorneys on both sides of my case were ill-prepared and disorganized. An hour spent before trial formulating an outline for their presentation of evidence and organizing documents could have turned this three-day trial into an afternoon.
The top concern on most jurors’ minds is getting back to their normal lives in a timely manner. If either side had displayed through their actions that they valued the court’s time, it might have won them the case.
The defendant in this case filed a kneejerk counterclaim for legal malpractice. There was no substance behind this, although a counterclaim of fraud might have stuck. The malpractice attempts only wasted time and seriously damaged the credibility of the defense.
The plaintiff’s counsel used closing arguments to put on an angry show, snarling as he proclaimed his disgust at the defense. Even though his words rang true, the melodrama turned off and alienated most of the jury.
During voir dire we were asked if we had any family members who were lawyers. I shared that my grandfather was both a corporate attorney and county prosecutor. That wasn’t reason enough to disqualify me.
Late in the trial, I noticed one of the witnesses waiting to be called was a neighbor in my building. I brought it to the judge’s attention, and discussed with the attorneys, but that wasn’t worth disqualifying me.
Also during voir dire, I brought up that Kristan had been called to the same case this summer. I thought it sounded familiar and remembered enough detail that they knew it was the same one, even if I had to wait until it was over to confirm with her. Even that didn’t get me disqualified! Before it was over (and hence before I could share the coincidence with her), Kristan recalled that she had the same juror number.
It probably would have been in the best interest of the defense to challenge me, but not for any of the above reasons. The case was fairly complicated, the jury was impatient, and when deliberations were to begin opinions were quite divergent. Thankfully, training and experience in running meetings and building consensus allowed me to volunteer as foreman and get a verdict in less than 45 minutes. I suspect a less organized session would have resulted in no damages being awarded, but we gave the plaintiff most of what he wanted.
Which was $5,500. For 3 days of the court’s time and 12 citizen’s lives. We were paid $18 a day, so we added $648 to court costs. If we were paid a conservative legal rate of $125/hr, that would have been $36,000. Neither side would have taken that risk.