Judging The Jury

Some people spent last week skiing, on a cruise ship, or otherwise enjoying the school break.

I was summoned to Stamford Superior Court.

Stamford Superior Court -- in, appropriately enough, an artist's rendering.

For the 3rd time in 3 years, I received a summons for jury duty. The first 2 years, a call the night before brought the waaaay welcome news that my services would not be required. This year, my (10-digit jurors’) number was up.

I sailed through security bright and early on my Big Day. I was not wanded, full-body searched, or even forced to remove my shoes. TSA: Take note!

The jury room on the 3rd floor had industrial carpeting — not the linoleum I remembered from previous jury service years ago. (Back then I was questioned for the wood chipper murder panel. That experience still makes for great cocktail party conversation.)

A hundred or so people — the attire ranged from jeans to business casual — spread comfortably in the large room. The chairs were comfortable; the lighting pleasant. This was nothing like “Twelve Angry Men.”

The scene on everyone's minds.

Yet none of the dozens of potential jurors spoke, or even made eye contact. We were all lost in our own thoughts. It was, I imagine, what sitting in the waiting room of an STD clinic must be like. I imagine!

A morning TV show with perky people played on the large screen. The sound level was, thankfully, low — far less intrusive than TVs in airport terminals and auto repair shops.

At 8:50 — just 20 minutes after our arrival — a nice young woman with a New York accent mounted the stage. She managed to make the same patter she’s probably delivered 1000 times seem fresh, then played an informational video. In plain, non-condescending tones, it explained things like voir dire, the presumption of innocence, and the difference between civil and criminal cases.

So far, so good. Still, not one of us had said a word.

I was marveling that I knew no one in the room — living most of my life in Fairfield County, I should have seen at least one familiar face — when a Westport attorney strode through the room. Looking all legal and ready to kick ass, he suddenly stopped at my seat.

“Hey, Dan!” he said. We chatted a bit, then he went off to pick a jury. Would I be lucky enough to get called on his case, and be excused because I’ve known him for 30 years? My heart soared.

We continued to sit. This was just like an airport, though without the squawking flight announcements and erotic smell of Cinnabons.

Next up: taking the “jurors’ oath.” We all swore to tell the truth, so help us god.

This was not our judge.

Then: here came the judge. He reiterated that — if we were chosen — we could not engage in any private research about the case. He was businesslike, clear, but also friendly. He was the kind of judge I’d like on my case, which fortunately I was not there for. What I was there for was to wait.

We had a break until 9:50. At that point the dueling attorneys explained the 1st case, which would last about a week. It was medical malpractice involving, apparently — they mentioned “plastic surgeons” — Botox gone bad.

My friend, Mr. Attorney, came on to present the 2nd case. This too was medical malpractice — and it was predicted to last 6 weeks. That sound I heard was all the jurors who had not been selected for the 1st case trying to figure out how the hell they were going to get out of that one.

I would have been a slam-dunk reject. Besides knowing the plaintiffs’ lawyer, I knew many of the people and doctors associated with the case.

But @#$%^&*! I had been randomly assigned to the first case: Botox gone bad.

One by one, my fellow (and very silent) juror-mates were called in to conferences. The attorney’s aims were to pick a panel that — based on bizarre factors known only to them — they hoped would favor their client. Our (unspoken) aim was to not be one of those they picked.

Twelve very Angry Men.

At 12:20, my name was finally called. Self- employed people like me were invited to explain their circumstances to the attorneys. I described mine. I was not selected.

Part of me was pleased: I would not have to spend a week in court listening to lawyers and medical experts, then haggling with (I imagined) the modern-day version of Twelve Angry Men And Women while more days dragged by.

Part of me, though, knew this was selfish. We’re all entitled to a jury of our peers, not a jury of people who don’t have reasons not to serve.

And part of me will always wonder: Just how badly did those doctors botch up the Botox, anyway?

7 responses to “Judging The Jury

  1. I know it is common for people to try to avoid jury duty. However,
    once you have sat in the jury box, even for a minor case (mine was
    a sexual harassment situation) you feel the weight of your decision.
    You attend differently and you listen and weigh differently than if
    you were just an observer. Your decision making affects several
    people and you feel that.
    Give it a try.

  2. Dennis Jackson

    I’ve been on two (dental malpractice, and liability for negligence), and concur with Nancy’s comment. It was weighty, civic, and an honor.

  3. Being married to a doctor, I never get called for malpractice. However, I’d still like to serve on a jury one day. Woog, I think you would be a great juror, and you’re allowed to tell the tale afterward. Maybe next time, though you should be off the list for a couple years.

  4. The Dude Abides

    In FEDERAL courts across the land, they have “professional juries” that sit for months. It has proven to be very effective. Some states have attempted such but it is difficult to find such individuals willing to sit for 6 months to hear trial after trial. Via thirty years in the law, I have found that leaving the judgment to the judge, without jury, is often the most prudent thing to do. Thank you for “call to duty, Professor. For those interested in civil law and health costs, judgments against doctors only account for 1% of health care costs. The GOP’s argument for tort reform is overstated. So stick it to the Botox bozo, Professor!!!!!!!!!!

    • It is the cost of defensive medicine, in the form of unnecessary testing ordered by doctors afraid of being sued, that is the culprit. Medicare’s administrator estimated in 2005 that this represented 9 % of the cost of health care in the U.S.

      • The Dude Abides

        Good point. Actually it is now up to about 25 cents on the dollar but my response to doctors: stop screwing up and your premiums will go down. Don’t blame the lawyers for suing you.

  5. I’ve been called for Jury Duty a number of times in the past 10 years. I clear the decks, request time off from work and/or make whatever arrangements are necessary for me to be there, etc. etc., and then in the ‘call the night before’ phone call, the jurors are called off. It is annoying. Especially since I would like to have the experience.