Friday, December 4, 2009

Would YOU want to serve?

As I mentioned Wednesday, I was supposed to have a trial next week but because we pled the case out, the trial was canceled.

When that happens I take a deep breath to relax before being reminded that 60 citizens of Travis County are still planning on fighting their way into downtown Austin on the coming Monday, finding parking somewhere in a twelve-block radius, and then marching into court for a long day of not being chosen for anything.

So, when we plead out a case the week before trial, the ADAs and Judge Lynch's court coordinator Melissa divide up the jury list and spend time calling the jurors and letting them know they are not needed, that they can have their Monday (and maybe their week) back.

That's what I did yesterday, and every time I do it I am amazed at how relieved jurors sound. If I make twenty calls, maybe two people will express disappointment whereas most are happy, and some are downright ecstatic.

I've posted before about why jurors may not like serving, so that's not my issue today. Today I just want you to click on the poll and tell me if you yourself would mind showing up for jury selection, and then serving on the final jury.

Be honest - most people would like to do it in theory, but imagine you are actually faced with the trek into court on Monday, your life potentially on hold for a week. Too much of a pain? This is an anonymous poll, so Civil Responsibility points will not be deducted from the secret DA files we have on all of you. Oh wait, maybe that's supposed to be a secret...


  1. Why doesn't the Coordinator set up a phone message that the jurors could check? Or an internet site? Or both? "The Court needs you to call in on Friday night to see if you will be needed for trial on Monday."

  2. That's not a bad idea, Lyle, though I'm wondering if it would work in practice. I say that because a case headed for trial could plead out five days in advance, or three days in advance. Even on the Monday it's set.
    A telephone message or internet site with a "don't need to come" message that the jurors call on Friday doesn't give them much notice. Imagine if the trial is canceled Wednesday, as mine was. It seems like the nice thing to let those jurors know asap so they can arrange their schedules, restore them I guess. But if the letter they get from the court says "Check the website on Friday" they get the short end. Likewise, if the site said "Check Wednesday" and the case pled out Friday, they'd be out of luck.
    In reality, it's not too much effort to call them all, particularly when the list is divided up between us, and I kind of like talking to them. Those who are disappointed, especially. :)

  3. Up in McLennan County we have a number to call on the Sunday before you report the next day. That appears to work well but we are not as big. I served on a murder trial about 8-10 years ago and was proud to do it. Interesting that I haven't been called again since. Once you serve does your name get pulled or is it just a coincidence that I haven't been called back?

  4. I don't mind it. Unfortunately having so many relatives in law inforcement usually causes the DA to toss me out. But, if that wasn't the case and I didn't have to search around for daycare, I think it would be a very interesting experience.

  5. Pfft! law (E)nforcement. (Yes, I can spell.)

  6. Richard - I imagine it's just coincidence, I think once you have served (or been told you're not needed) your name goes back into the hopper with everyone else's.

    jacddell - s'ok, misspelling is no crime. :) I'm curious - did you mean to say the DA tosses you out? I LIKE it when my jurors have relatives in law enforcement. I'd imagine the defense would be more likely to strike you. And I know what you mean about day care, it's a problem for those trying cases, too!

  7. D.A.C. - you're assuming that those who know alot of folks or have relatives in law enforcement are more likely to have a high opinion of LEO.

    (Or maybe he meant the oppposite of what he wrote, who knows?)

  8. I enjoy your BLOG, I hope you continue posting

  9. I've been on two juries, both interesting in different ways.

    One was a speeding ticket based on moving radar. I spent 20 years in the Air Force working with radars of all types and know that moving radar is pretty much a joke unless there are no other cars within a mile of the target. In this case the trooper shined it into a pack of cars and picked one at random to get the ticket.

    I obeyed the judge's instruction not to pose as an expert to the jury, but there was no way I'd ever convict anyone based on junk science like moving radar. After the trial I asked the government lawyer why I was on the jury when in response to his question I admitted I was a former radar engineer. He said that he was afraid that if he excluded me his case would look weak.

    The other took a whole week in Williamson county, a fellow was accused of molesting his niece while babysitting her. The main evidence was the testimony of a four year old and a partial recording of a conversation with the defendant placed by a relative from the police station.

    It came out in a Perry Mason moment complete with screaming attorneys on both sides that the fellow had been accused of raping the little girls mom a few years before but the charges had been dropped.

    This was a very difficult case to decide and caused many sleepless nights during and after the trial.

    I'd be willing, if not eager, to serve again, but I have to say it P.O.'s me that the court seems to bend over backward for anybody who can hire a lawyer, but treats the juries like a bunch of proles.

    Williamson county called me again last summer, and I had to stand in line in the rain, then wait for an hour in a prison like waiting room, only to be told all the cases had been settled and nobody was needed. Grrrrrrrrrr.

    And the pay is a joke. Ten bucks was a lot in the 1800s, why isn't jury pay adjusted for inflation?

    Maybe the government ought to hire an attorney to represent the jurors.

  10. ps: Would be nice to have this be RSS I receive the posts (via push) as opposed to me having to look (via pull). Just an idea. Either way I remain interested.

  11. When I lived in Florida that is what you did. You called a line the Friday before and they listed what juror numbers needed to come. I had to do this because I couln't do jury duty because I had plane tickets bought for a vacation and luckily they didn't call my number.

  12. I’m not so sure that someone who WANTS to serve on a jury would be a preferred selection. Being a juror is a serious endeavor-- not something to do for amusement, entertainment, a personal learning experience, or merely to satisfy a curiosity. A prospective juror should have a commitment to be conscientious, thorough, and fair, with a willingness to serve only out of a sense of civic responsibility and obligation, not because it is something that he or she would like to do. That’s why prospective jurors are randomly obtained through summons instead of having some sort of recruitment or application process. On the other hand I don’t think it would be a good idea either to have a juror who detests the assignment to the extent that personal disgruntlement at being selected would adversely impact patience or dedication to perform duties to the best of his or her ability. So it is up to the counsel for both sides to identify those who seem too eager or too embittered during the voir dire preliminaries.

  13. I was called up once a couple of years ago. I ended up in the jury box, but got a migraine before the trial started. I was actually quite interested in the trial as well as the answers that other potential jurors gave. It was interesting to me to see a cross-section of people in my city. I would be quite happy to serve in the future, as long as it wasn't a financial hardship for me.

  14. You shouldn't be stuck doing the court coordinator or clerk's job of notifying jurors they aren't needed. What a wasteful use of county resources.

  15. Like most people reading an attorney's blog on a Saturday morning, I'm retired. I voted for the first option. Age may be a factor here.

  16. I've been called twice in recent memory, once in Austin Municipal Court and once in Jan Breland's CCL6.

    In CCL6 I wound up in the #1 position, meaning of course that I'd be on the jury if I weren't struck by one side or the other. Chris Gunter was representing the defendant in a family violence assault case.

    The voir dire went something like this: "Mr. Dickson, I see that you're an attorney. What kind of law do you practice?"

    Me: "Well, I have a general practice, I do all kinds of stuff, but primarily I represent the State Troopers Association."

    Gunter: "Your Honor, may we approach?" Chris practically escorted me out the door and rang the elevator button to make sure I left the building. :-)
    The voir dire in the Municipal Court was equally amusing. It was a speeding ticket and the defendant was pro se. The prosecutor asked if any of us knew him, or the defendant, or Judge Meyerson. I raised my hand. I knew him, and I knew Judge Meyerson. He asked how I knew him and the judge. "I've represented clients in this court many times," I responded. He struck me. If he'd asked me one more question, he'd have discovered that I represent the State Troopers Association. Of course, then the other guy would have struck me. :-)

  17. I've done my time in jury duty when called, once in Montgomery County and once in federal court in Houston. I see it as my civic duty and don't really mind, even if I have to take time off work, but it would be nice if what they paid covered parking and lunch at least.

  18. You wrote:..Be honest - most people would like to do it in theory, but imagine you are actually faced with the trek into court on Monday, your life potentially on hold for a week....
    HUH? You don't have a "One Day-one trial" system like we do in Illinois? (Or at least Cook County)

  19. One Day One Trial. I have been summoned three times & served once. The deal is you get summoned, go to one of the waiting rooms, then you go in a group with about 30 other people to a courtroom, wait again, and if you don't get called, or are turned down, BINGO that's your duty for the next twelve months. I've been down to Austin & parts of Travis County. Your population is big enough to shift to that system.

  20. Here's an interesting story about the dynamics of having a lawyer serve on a jury. If this link doesn't work, try googling the title of the article: Federal Judge Wonders if Lawyers in McKesson Case Laid a Trap in Form of Lawyer on Jury

  21. I see what you mean, and we do work that way. In other words, if you show up for voir dire but are not picked, then your service is complete, you do indeed go back into the great void from whence you may, or may not, be picked in the future. The reference to a week being taken out of your life was the idea that you may actually get picked for a trial and have to rearrange your schedule for that reason.

  22. This might not be the best place for this, but I'd like to hear your thoughts on the efficacy of the jury system as a whole. I read your October post on the topic of jury service, and noted your comment to the effect that you believe juries are good at their jobs.

    You undoubtedly have more jury experience than I do, so my sample size is considerably smaller, but I've not been impressed as a general matter. Juries seem to fixate on small, unimportant details in making their decisions. Jury instructions seem to confuse the issue as frequently as they enlighten it (if not more frequently). Does it not cause you some unease to know that the interests of the State of Texas are in the hands of twelve (or however many) registered voters? Particularly when most people don't want to serve in the first place?

    My most enduring jury trial memory is tied to a pro bono case I tried with a former colleague of mine (someone you remind me of quite a bit). Our client was a man who had been unjustly accused of kidnapping his love interest, and the police had wrecked his mother's home while searching for him. All he wanted was the money he'd spent repairing the damage the police had done. He ended up being a terrible witness, so I wasn't surprised when the jury failed to award damages, but the jury wouldn't even acknowledge that he'd been mistreated. I'm not sure if that result is due to juror indifference, a sympathetic defendant, or my co-counsel's incompetence, but it was a little disappointing.


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