Friday, October 16, 2009

Jury Friday

Friday is going to be jury day, partly because I like structure and knowing I need to write about the same thing every week helps, and partly because I love jury trials and think they are wonderful tools for justice (except when I lose).


Who doesn't like a good gossip? Come on, be honest. Not necessarily a mean one, maybe even a fair and analytical one, but fess up: rendering judgment on a colleague or nosy neighbor is satisfying. Almost as satisfying as passing judgment on the phone-talking, arm-waving drongo in the lane next to you, yabbering away while her turn signal indicates a desire to drive off the freeway into the concrete retaining wall.

So why is jury duty, the ultimate in passing judgment on one's fellow man, so shunned? Why do we see, on every panel, a slew of upstanding citizens doing and saying all they can to be released and sent home?

I can think of several possibilities:

1. It's an interruption, it messes with our carefully-planned and scheduled lives.

Fair enough, we do tend to live within a routine, I get that. But there's got to be more to it than that. If, for example, I dragged you away from work to present you with a check for ten grand, the interruption would be forgiven. (Unless you are a lawyer for a large, civil law firm where you earn that every day just sitting behind a desk.)

2. It's intimidating because we don't know what's expected of us, or how long it'll be expected of us (whatever it is).

Maybe. But that's why we have Law & Order, to teach us how the process works, right? Okay, not really. Jury service is certainly an unknown -- you could be hearing a traffic ticket dispute, a fight between two corporations over intellectual property, or a murder case. But that's more like a Christmas stocking filled with surprises than a sack of snakes on your doorstep. Isn't it? And once you have rearranged your schedule and are here, wouldn't you want to stay? After all, if you do watch Law & Order, you'll probably find it pretty interesting. (see point 4., below)

3. We just don't care.

This one I refuse to believe, though several fellow lawyers have mentioned it as a possibility. I don't believe it because EVERY jury I have had, every single one of them, has taken the case incredibly seriously. I have never seen a rushed decision, a flippant attitude, or a coin-flip for a decision. Quite the opposite, I've seen jurors take cases very personally. And I saw twelve people sit stony-faced as they heard a prosecutor promise "hard evidence" and a "blow-by-blow" account of a transvestite prostitute's offenses. Seriously, not a giggle amongst them.

4. It'll be boring.

Several people in my informal poll came up with this one. I don't think, though, that anyone coming to a felony courtroom will expect to be bored. In fact, I suspect they might actually BE bored on occasion - it really isn't like Law & Order. But if you show up to felony court, you must have some expectation of a serious (and therefore interesting) case. And yet, at that late stage, people still try to get out of it...

More questions than not answers, sorry. But if you want to know why being on a jury makes you awesome, check back next week. I got THAT scoop.


  1. This sounds more exciting than the Bastrop jury selections. I'm moving somewhere to Travis cty.

  2. Despite what you say, I still think people think it will be boring, felony or no. They're wrong, but I do think that's how people see it.

  3. Been involved with three juries. Two were as you'd expect. The third, absolute shameless playing to racism and perceived economic injustices. And unfortunately it worked.

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