Tuesday, March 24, 2009

My Civic Duty

Well, yesterday I reported for Jury Duty, good citizen that I am. I must admit, I was actually eager to get seated on the jury. I thought it could be a good experience. I was expecting that it would be something short, but it turned out to be for a medical malpractice case, something that would probably take a full 5 days this week.

It sounded like it involved flesh-eating bacteria and a 37 year old man who died within 2 days of seeing the doctor. At least, that's what I could glean from Voir Dire (the questioning of the jury by the judge and attorneys).

As a civil case, only 7 jurors would be seated (6 plus one alternate). There were 55 jurors called. It seemed unlikely I'd make it. Then again, I've never seen a jury VD before, just read them in transcripts (and usually I skipped them because they were relevant).

At first, it seemed like they'd be seated rather quickly. Almost all of the jurors were deemed acceptable to all involved. Then one drops out. Then another. Then one asks to be excused. Pretty soon we're halfway down the list. The plaintiff's attorney dismisses a republican state house aide. No doubt why. Someone else who was a nurse who said that he had been involved in depositions in many "frivolous" suits against his hospital. Later, he denies he used that word but still says he thought that suits were driving up costs and were a problem. So he's gone by plaintiff's peremptory (without cause or explanation kind of challenge).

Finally, surprisingly, my name is called. I go up and sit in the box. Juror number 5 I would be. The judge first asks if I heard all the previous questions and asked if I had anything to say. I said no, forgetting that one of the questions was about professional qualifications. I also figured they'd just read my questionaire. So the judge gently reminds me of that and I tell him I'm a lawyer. I tell him my background. I fill in more details for the attorneys. The judge asked me about my kids and child care. He wants to make sure there will be no problems there. I assure him there won't be.

So no one challenges me for cause. There is none, I've given none. Ok, so I want to be on the jury, though I know it will be a big wrench in my week. Then, plaintiff's attorney signs off - no peremptory. Defendant's attorney. "Thank you, Mr X." So I'm gone. Peremptory. I guess I was not terribly surprised. Still, it looked like I could almost have been seated. On the way out as I walked past the defense table, I asked the defense attorney, jokingly, if he had something against lawyers. He smiled. Apparently so, when it comes to jurors.

I really had no bias one way or the other. I would have full evaluated the evidence and tried to come to the correct conclusion. Maybe that was the problem. Or maybe there is something else at work. Maybe lawyers just don't like other lawyers on juries. I couldn't say. I'd be curious to talk to that lawyer later on and ask him. Maybe I'll even do that, though I don't remember the names and probably don't have an easy way to look them up right now, either. Oh well.

It was an interesting experience. Maybe one of these years I'll actually get seated on a jury.


armagh444 said...

Maybe one of these years I'll actually get seated on a jury.

Ain't gonna happen.

If one party wants to keep the attorney (and I can actually think of one jury pool that contained an attorney I actively wanted to keep on the panel), the other party will boot him.

DBB said...

Well, unless they run out of peremptory challenges. They could have run out on this one. They had a huge pool - another trial for the same day was going to draw from it and it was cancelled because the judge was at a funeral. They tried to call off some of the pool but most still came.

Mr. 618 said...

I had a similar experience. As a former cop, I got excused by the prosecutor (it was a criminal case), which led me to believe the state had a weak case and knew it.

Spirit of the Season said...

I'm a lawyer and we generally try to exclude lawyers (as well as engineers, scientists) from juries - the folk wisdom is that they tend to be naturally contrarian and see the deliberations as a "contest".

That said, I was once seated on jury and I attempted to build consensus and there was a lone juror (a retired school teacher- generally considered to be safe, non-maverick jurors) who announced at the outset that she believed X and that nobody was going to change her mind. Her contributions to the deliberations were "You can think whatever you want, but I not changing my mind."

DBB said...

I don't think I'm naturally contrarian - I like to decide things fairly. I also would apply the correct standard, which perhaps would be more trouble for a criminal prosecutor than a defendant in a medmal.

I suppose jury selection is much more art than science, since most people defy simple labels, though there are the RWAs...

Jean Lafitte said...

Last time I was called for jury duty the whole group was addressed by one of the judges who said, you think YOU have it bad....

Judges do get picked by the jury pool lottery and have to report for duty. But they NEVER actually serve on a jury, they are ALWAYS dropped for cause or peremptory, they KNOW this going in, but they have to show up every day until dismissed anyway.

They hate it.

DBB said...

I thought judges were not qualified to serve on juries in their own courts, but a state court judge could be on a federal jury and vice-versa. I'm too lazy to verify that right now.

In any case, I'm sure accomodations could be made, as were made for me - I did not have to call in on 6 different potential dates - I got to pick one, but then had to go for certain on that date. So it wasn't terribly inconvenient for me. That was done to accomodate my own court schedule, and I can assure you I'm not a judge.