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Passion, People and Principles

Jury Duty

post # 314 — February 21, 2007 — a General post

Having mentioned I served on a jury, I received an email asking me to reflect on my experience as a juror.

I’m afraid I don’t have much to say that is profound. The case involved a laborer who was asked by the pastor of his church, he claimed, to perform some basic renovation work on a recently purchased building to make it fit to hold services. There seemed to be no argument that some amount of work was done, but the laborer claimed that all his receipts were stolen (along with his tools) from his truck, and hence could not submit them to the pastor (or the court). We had to decide whether the pastor had promised to pay the laborer, and how much the laborer was owed.

The plaintiff’s case was presented very efficiently by his attorney, supported by testimony from some of the assistants the laborer had hired to help with the work. The lawyer told us what he planned to contend, and called witnesses to back up those specific contentions.

Things started to drag out when the defendant’s attorney took over. As jurors, we were confused as to what it was and what it was not that he was contending. He seemed to taking scattergun potshots at whatever he could think of.

Astoundingly, for a case where less than $80,000 was in dispute, this whole thing dragged on for five days (9am to 1pm).

If there lessons to be learned, they were these:

  • If a parishioner is suing the pastor and you want us to believe the pastor, have at least one other parishioner appearing court on the pastor’s side
  • Don’t be mean, attacking witnesses as to whether they have ever been arrested, or ever had a drink of alcohol. It backfired.
  • If you’re trying to make a case, tell us up front what you what you are going to try to prove. We get lost easily.
  • If you don’t contest an issue, topic or fact, we the jury are going to assume you concede the point.
  • It’s amazing how the lack of organization – fumbling through papers – affected our view of a lawwyer’s credibility .
  • Body language mattered – the defendent slumped and scowled and dozed throughout the plaintiff’s case. It turned the jury off
  • In post verdict discussions, all the jurors agreed we had formed a strong opinion on the character of the individuals involved within the first 30 minutes of the 5-day trial.

I know this is all obvious stuff, that’s all five days out of my life offered me. What a waste!

Does anyone else have (more informative) lessons from their jury experience?


Howard Krais said:

Can sympathise with your comments David. I have ‘luckily’ been selected twice for jury service in the UK, albeit 10 years apart.

Yet on both occasions I came to the firm conclusion, like you, that the majority (if not all) of my fellow jurors were agreed on the outcome of the cases within the first hour, irrespective that with all the waiting around and delays it might take 4-5 days to try the case.

The one thing that I found particularly irritating is that it is all very ‘comfortable’. Rather than the relaxed late starts and early finishes (and guaranteed hour for lunch) if we put in a day more akin to what we do in business then perhaps you could save considerable time and cost – for all concerned.

People may say jury service is a crucial part of the democratic process but I can’t help think there must be far better ways of doing it.

posted on February 21, 2007

Marjorie Vincent said:

I served as a juror on a civil case a couple of years ago and my biggest learning came from the challenge to remain true to myself and my own assessment of the case, in the face of pressure from other jurors, especially when I was in a clear minority. I did stick to my beliefs and in the end was the lone dissenter, which I was required to stand and acknowledge in the courtroom. It was a good experience and a good test of passion and principles!

Marjorie Vincent

posted on February 21, 2007

Anne Reed said:

Many thanks for kindly responding to my E-mail with a post that is more profound than you may think, especially “we get lost easily.” Trial lawyers (when they remember at all that jurors get lost) too often think condescendingly, “They get lost easily.” If we began to express it as you did here, with “we” — we all get lost when we’re not given direction and context — it would make a world of difference.

posted on February 21, 2007

Ellen Weber said:

David, this story reminds us that we have broken the system that we created to get to the fair and truthful results we wanted.

Your list reminds us how the break occured and what’s happening to break it further daily.

I found myself wondering how we might begin to recreate a system that really is fair, just and civil at the same time. Too many people share your story here – and with good reason. Ideas?

posted on February 21, 2007

Penelope Trunk said:

I really enjoyed this post. I am fascinated by what works with a jury and what doesn’t. For example, one thing I learned is that fat women don’t have a lot of empathy and defendants usually try to strike those jurors.

Anyway, there’s a great lesson in this post about getting over the facts. So many people talk about how they should get a promotion, they should get a job, should should should becuase of the facts.

But David’s discussion about what mattered to him as a juror was more intangible stuff, like, who is supproting you, are you being a jerk, are you clear in your communication.

These three things are the things employees always compalain about when they can’t master soft skills. But the truth is these things matter everywhere — not just in court or in the office.


posted on March 1, 2007

Joseph Dunphy said:

Penelope Trunk writes:

“For example, one thing I learned is that fat women don’t have a lot of empathy and defendants usually try to strike those jurors.”

On behalf of many, I suspect, I’d just like to say WHAT? Did I really just read that? Unbelievable. That’s just terrible.

posted on September 3, 2007

free quote structured settlement said:

Great Ideas!

posted on April 18, 2008