My first time serving on a jury has come to a close. I helped decide a gender discrimination (civil) lawsuit brought against UPS by one of its employees in a U.S. District Court. While there were excruciatingly slow parts, I found the entire experience very interesting and even fun (it helps that I’m a huge Law & Order fan and haven’t been in a courtroom in almost 20 years). Generally speaking, it was about what I expected — based upon knowledge of the justice system procured entirely through TV/movies — but there were a few things that surprised me…
- The attorneys weren’t as prepared and polished as I thought they would be. There was a fair amount of stumbling over words and ideas during witness Q&A. I assumed that after their months of preparation — including asking the exact same questions during depositions — that it would be pretty smooth, just like on TV. I guess the pressures of an actual trial, with witnesses who don’t particularly like you and unforeseen events occurring, can throw off even veteran attorneys.
- The jury box had LCD monitors for displaying evidence documents to us. Both sides had documents to share, which needed to be submitted to and received by the judge before the clerk would display it to us. It was surprising how awkward that whole evidence sharing process was…and I don’t mean the technical A/V aspects of actually getting it to appear on the screen. I mean the attorneys forgot to say which side needed to display the document and were sometimes unable to correctly give the document number, resulting in things taking longer than they should’ve — and even resulting in us briefly seeing some documents that we shouldn’t have. The attorneys and witnesses didn’t fare much better with the offline stuff either. The document binders were enormous and plentiful, making the search for any individual document physically and navigationally difficult.
- It seemed at times that the judge wasn’t paying complete attention to the proceedings. On several occasions, when one of the attorneys would object to the opposing attorney’s question, the judge appeared to be emerging from a fog and took a few seconds to gather herself before ruling on the objection. Back in the jury room, we joked about what she was doing during the questioning (online shopping was one of the guesses). I’m sure the judge was, in fact, paying attention…just looked funny.
- I mentioned earlier that there were excruciatingly slow parts. Some of the witness Q&A was mind-numbingly repetitive, due to several factors. First, the law is pretty much about precise language, so the attorneys needed witnesses to answer in particular ways that often took several tries. Second, witnesses who are clearly aligned with one side have no interest in answering the other side’s questions easily/succinctly. Third, each side wants to be thorough in hammering home certain points, necessitating deliberate repetitiveness. After one such witness Q&A, I asked back in the jury room, “can’t we just get the PowerPoint summary?” Too bad the real thing can’t be snappy like TV/movie trials. They’d get a lot more jurors that way.
- As you may know, the folks who actually have to report to the jury pool for potential selection must fill out a questionnaire covering their background and any experiences similar to the particulars of the case at hand. The judge and attorneys then drill down on the answers provided, in front of all the other potential jurors. Two of my answers described situations very similar to the core issues addressed in this case. Even though I said that I believed my past experiences would not prevent me from objectively hearing and deciding the case (that’s what you’re supposed to say), I figured I’d be excused by one side or the other. To my surprise, I was picked. Two other people who made the jury told me they were surprised I was picked, as well. I’m guessing that my two experiences balanced each other out, since the attorneys probably assumed one biased me toward the plaintiff and the other biased me toward the defense. (Uh, no, I have never discriminated against someone based on his/her gender.)
- After the trial ended, the attorneys from both sides waited outside the courtroom to ask us about the trial: what pieces of evidence were particularly persuasive, what they could have done better, etc. I had no idea this happens. Jurors can certainly refuse to participate (as I did), but it seems a bit strange to immediately and directly solicit jurors in that manner. Send us a survey in the mail; we’ve got work to get back to.
Other items of note…
- Each side consisted of an older, seasoned, lead attorney and a younger, minion 2nd attorney (during the trial, the 2nd attorneys generally found documents and helped bring witnesses into the courtroom). The 2nd attorneys were much more sharply dressed than the lead attorneys. Very nice suits, perfectly dimpled ties, and I’m-intellectual-and-fashionable glasses. The lead attorneys — who, presumably, have much higher disposable incomes — were dressed okay, but certainly not to impress. I guess they’re already in the position they need/want to be…the young bucks still need to make people take notice.
- On the plaintiff’s side, the 2nd attorney actually questioned one or two witnesses. I don’t think he had done it much in an actual trial, because it was painful to watch at the beginning. Almost every question he asked was objected to by the defense — at one point resulting in the judge essentially giving him a primer on what he can ask and how he should go about doing it. To his credit, he forged ahead relatively unrattled and was much smoother by the end.
- Why are court reporters still necessary? Or, at the very least, why do they need to type everything? Given the current state of technology, you’d think courts (especially federal ones) could have good microphones and voice-recognition software that immediately transcribes the day’s proceedings. At best, you’d need the reporter to make corrections every-so-often for weird words.
- “I don’t recall” seems like a simple enough answer, right? Not necessarily. On a couple of occasions, the plaintiff’s attorney drilled down on this self-evident response to ask, “Are you saying that it didn’t happen or that it may have happened and you just don’t remember?” Just making sure, I guess.
- Every day, I had to walk through a metal detector and my stuff went through an x-ray machine, run by the U.S. Marshals Service. The first day I reported to the jury pool, I had to show my ID with my jury summons and had to take off my watch, belt, and other metal objects to put through the x-ray machine, just like at airport security checkpoints. After I was selected to be a juror, I was given a pin-on button that identified me as a juror. On all subsequent days, while my stuff still had to go through the x-ray machine, I didn’t have to show my ID — they just took a cursory glance at my button and let me through without making me remove any metal objects. When the metal detector sounded off, they simply said it was the metal in my button and waved me through. Let me tell you, this button wasn’t some sort of high-tech, 3-D hologram, color-shifting, laser button. It was a plain button, like the kind class president candidates hand out. Like the kind anyone who took a glance at for a few seconds could re-create using materials found at Michaels. I’ll stop there, lest I start to look dangerous to the U.S. Marshals Service. I’m hoping they have much more going on than simply glancing at my button for one second.
- I wonder what trial attorneys think of jurors. My guess is that they see us as rubes. Think about it. They spend three years slogging through law school, must pass a difficult bar exam, spend many more years listening to their partners try cases before they’re allowed to ask even one question in open court, then spend many more years honing their craft to be successful litigators that clients are willing to hire. They spend hundreds of hours preparing for a case and have to justify it to a judge before it goes to trial. They come up with strategies and brainstorm all sorts of counterarguments. Then they present the case to 8-12 random people off the streets, people who need not possess any requisite level of intelligence / critical thinking skills (let alone know anything whatsoever about the law) in order to be selected for a jury, people who frequently don’t even want to be there. And these random people get to render the verdict, get to decide how well they did their jobs as legal professionals. It’s like you train your whole life to be an Olympic figure skater, and all your blood, sweat, and tears are put in the hands of people who happen to be milling around the Olympic Village, who don’t know a toe loop from a curling stone, and who couldn’t think of an excuse good enough to get them out of the panel. Yeah, I get the sense litigators think we’re dunces and necessary evils. At least they get paid either way. Unless they’re working on contingency, I guess. Ouch.