I reported for jury duty recently. You can read a couple of observations about Day One (including a rant about something unrelated :P). So I basically wait around a lot, and they eventually weed out anyone to whom a two week trial would present "extreme hardship". At the end of the day, we fill out a survey with questions asking us about previous experiences with asbestos, our views toward corporations, and our views toward personal injury lawsuits. That's all I know about the case, since they have to tell us as little as possible about the case until it actually starts to minimize bias. I do know that I like the Honorable Donald Mitchell, though. He's kinda relaxed and funny. And it's kinda neat that he actually has jury duty too. He's just arranged to split his day between that and his normal job. :)
On Thursday, a computer randomly selects 18 people to be potential jurors, and I'm one of the first 12. We find out a little more about the case. It's a civil case, an individual suing a corporation. The plaintiff is a man sick with cancer, and he claims that he was exposed to asbestos while working at the company. The company denies any such exposure. In addition, the guy's wife is suing for loss of consortium. The jury isn't allowed to find out the identity of either party until the beginning of the trial, though; we only see their lawyers.
To test our suitability as jurors, the lawyers start asking us questions, and the plaintiff's lawyer goes first. She looks through our survey responses and talks to anyone she has concerns with. Three or four people are fine with awards for medical bills and lost wages, but they have issues with placing a value on abstract harm like "pain and suffering" or "loss of consortium". There's a lot of confusion over whether or not the court will actually give us guidance about how to decided the amount to award if we decide for the plaintiff.
Then there's this one older guy who recently filed suit against a company and lost. He's still visibly distraught about it. "Will that affect your ability to decide the case fairly? Do you think you'll biased against a corporation?" "Yes." Later, he'll be the only juror dismissed "for cause".
The most (unintentionally?) amusing guy looks like a stereotypical businessman. His reading material is an American Spectator magazine. He says that he believes in "natural law", that the "law" as we call it is actually a set of rules that the state coerces us to follow. He adds that he believed in free markets.
Lawyer: So, when you get to the deliberation room, do you think you'll be able to make a decision based on the law as given to you by the court?
Natural Law Guy: Well, I don't think that's "law"...
Judge: I think we're arguing semantics here... Could you base your decision on the rules or laws or whatever that the court gives you? Or would you feel compelled to follow your own moral code instead?
The lawyer and the judge keep asking that basic question, and he keeps giving different answers. At one point, the judge starts making an analogy about a red light on a desert road with no cars in any direction. Will he ignore the light? Yes, he says. But then the judge realizes it's not a perfect analogy. :P
This just goes on and on until he eventually agrees to "try his best". As for me, I think this guy needs to get out of my country, or at least out of my city and state. If you live in a given society, you've signed the social contract to abide by its laws. If you're going to just follow whatever laws you feel like following, then we need to either toss you in prison or kick you our of our society. That's how societies work!
Ahem. To continue, one lady has lost her grandfather to asbestos-related cancer. The lawyer asks her if she can put that behind her and decide the case fairly. She says she thinks she can, and she'll try her best. The lawyer launches into a little speech about how that's all that they can ask us to do, that we all come into to courtroom with experiences, but that we just need to try to be as fair as possible, etc.
And that brings me to the style of question the plaintiff's lawyer employs. Thing is, I totally feel like she was covertly trying to build a rapport with the jurors. She's playing up the "representing an everyday person" angle. The defendant's lawyer is this man in a suit with stylish hair. He just looks all slick and, well, corporate lawyer-ish. I can totally imagine him as a TV lawyer. :) The plaintiff's lawyer, on the other hand, is wearing something decent but kinda plain, like maybe a sweater and pants or something; I don't remember exactly.
She also jokes around a lot with the jurors. On a couple of occasions, when she mentions her client's illness, the defendant's lawyer objects that she's "arguing", that is, bringing up stuff that should be left for the trial. So later, she's about to say something that leans in that direction, and she disclaims, "Now I don't want to be accused of arguing, but..." She even makes a couple of jokes that only she laughs at. :P
Personally, I'm finding it kinda irritating. I feel like she's obviously playing to our emotions. And she goes on asking questions for so long that it takes a couple of hours, and we have to break till the next day.
On Friday, the plaintiff's lawyer continues with her questions for a while until she's finally done, and it's the corporate lawyer's turn. He doesn't have too many questions. The one amusing bit is when one juror says he probably has a little bit of bias against corporations, but it's nothing major, just that corporations have money to hire better lawyers and such. "So," the defendant's lawyer says, pointing to the plaintiff's lawyer, "Are you saying that she's not a good lawyer?" We all have a good laugh. :)
So then we have a break while the lawyers talk to the judge about juror dismissals. As I mentioned before, only one juror gets dismissed for a valid reason. The lawyers also get a limited number of dismissals "without cause", and the plaintiff's lawyer picks out one or two without cause. The defendant's lawyer passes, which is kind of surprising to me.
The judge asks us one last time if we have any concerns about being jurors. After a pause, the natural law guy says that the plaintiff's lawyer said something at some point that offended him, and that he'll probably hold it against her. I think he's obviously just trying to get out of jury service at this point. The judge won't have any of it, and neither will the lawyer. The judge tells him it wouldn't be fair to let his impression of a lawyer to taint his view of their client's case, and he asks natural law guy if he thinks he can try to put that aside and just the case fairly. A pause, and then another reluctant "yes".
And that's that. The jury is set, and we are to report back for about two weeks of actual trial on Monday, serving 9:30am to 4:30pm every day. It'll be kind of lonely, I think, because we're not allowed to talk about the case with anyone, jurors or not, for the duration of the trial. This is to keep us unbiased.
So I get to the court Monday morning, and only the plaintiff's lawyer is there. The judge comes out and tells us he has some good news and some bad news. The good news is that the case has been settled! The bad news is that he won't get to spend two weeks getting to know us fine people. :P He tells us that, when presented with an actual jury, people often think harder about all the trouble of going to trial. It's apparently not unusual for them to settle at the last minute.
So the judge dismisses us, and the plaintiff's lawyer comes over to ask us jurors about our thoughts and so forth. I notice at that point that she's wearing a business suit. She never wore a business suit the previous days. Intentional or not? I don't really know. But it does get me thinking... After chatting with a couple of other jurors, I decide that much of her act wasn't directed at the jury at all! At one point, she even mentioned to a juror that most cases don't go to trial; that was likely intended for the ears of her opponent. All her rapport-building may have been to sway us to her side emotionally, but it was also to convince the defendant's lawyer that he doesn't have a good chance. Same probably goes for her delay tactics in asking so many questions. It was probably all to convince the defendants to settle. And the defendant's lawyer's complacent attitude toward the end of jury selection makes more sense now, too. The corporation had probably already decided at that point to settle out of court.
And thus ends my second jury service. I'm going to get $15/day (excluding day 1) in the mail for it, and I'm exempt for a year. (In Massachusetts, you're exempt for 3 years after serving!) I don't know if I get to say I served on a jury this time, though, since technically the case ended before going to trial. And yet, since my last trial only lasted only two days, and jury selection only took a day, this actually took just as long! :) I kinda looked forward to learning more about asbestos, but two weeks all day would have probably been a bit too much, so I guess I'm glad it's over. And as the judge assured us at the end, our very presence was a major influence in making the parties settle, so I didn't really waste my time, and I fulfilled my civic duty once again. Hurrah!