Tuesday, March 29, 2011

On the Ol' Soap Box

The jury.

To the starry-eyed young lawyer, the jury is still the backbone of the U.S. Legal System.  Who better to judge a person than twelve of their peers after a presentation of all of the evidence?

Who better?  Well, I could go outside right now, throw a rock and the first squirrel or possum I managed to hit would be a preferable alternative.

For starters, do you know how many people want to get taken out of their lives and forced to sit through what can often be grueling evidence for the whopping salary of about $12.00 a day?  Okay, I’ll grant the occasional little old lady and bored retiree, but that’s about it.

Would you like to hear some of the excuses jurors use to try to get out of jury duty?  Let’s see:

  1. Hair appointments;

  1. Hooters reservations;

  1. Pollen (although I could possibly be swayed by that one);  and my personal favorite...

  1. A naugahyde allergy.

If the heartless judge doesn’t buy the well rehearsed sob story, take heart:  There’s still the Unappealing Juror Strategy.  By the time lawyers question everyone before you, you have a pretty good idea about the nature of the case before your butt is called to fill Seat 7.  Even if you’ve only tuned in sporadically, you also have an idea about what the lawyers do and don’t want to hear. 

Some wonderful citizens actually get the meaning of civic duty and answer how they are supposed to, some folks hit the jackpot and know one of the attorneys or parties thereby buying an almost immediate ticket back home and some folks take the liberty of getting...creative.  Would you care to hear some of the better lines of prospective jurors?  Okay:

  1. He wouldn’t be here if he didn’t do it;

  1. Do I know about chiropractors?  I know enough to prefer Voodoo;

  1. What?  Hmm?  I have ADD and lost track of what you were saying;

  1. The cops beat up my son and he’s a good Christian boy, so who knows what they would do to some shady character like him? (pointing at Defendant);

  1. I don’t think that women should be allowed to drive so, yeah, I got a problem with the fact that a woman was driving one of the cars in the wreck;  and

  1. The Defendant looks like my ex-husband and he was a total bastard.

Trying a case in front of a jury today is more of a crap shoot than ever before.  We are most unfortunately in the era of Court TV and that Godforsaken Judge Judy.  Jurors think that they know what is going on behind the scenes and they may very well know exactly that, but the juror’s task is to look at the evidence presented and come to a determination, not to swath the facts in inferred hoopla.

For example, when a personal injury case of any sort is tried, all parties—from the judge to the janitor—are expressly forbidden to mention the existence of any insurance whatsoever.  In a car wreck litigation, the automobile liability insurance is very likely paying for the defense, but mention it and you get an automatic mistrial and very likely a judge’s note to the State Bar. 

Although defense attorneys and insurance companies may beg to differ, the initial reason for the insurance taboo is to take away the deep pockets in the mind of the jury.  If the jury thinks that they are rendering a decision against little ol’ retired school teacher Ms. Perkins, they will contain themselves better when it comes to slapping on damages.  Of course, if Ms. Perkins is insured, then the mega-million insurance company is writing the check, so what the hell?

The tide has turned.

These days, Anne sues the truck driver who plowed into her with his 18 wheeler because the driver couldn’t find a radio channel to his liking.  Anne’s injuries are tremendous and some are even permanent, she’s lost her job and—not to put too fine a point on it—everything sucks.  She’s suing the truck driver and the company that employed him.  The truck driver pled guilty in criminal court.  Medical expenses surpass half a million and future surgery and continued physical deterioration are pretty much guaranteed.  The jury comes back and answers the critical questions:

  1. Were Defendant Driver’s actions negligent?


  1. Was Plaintiff injured by the joint and several negligence of the Defendants?


  1. What amount is Plaintiff entitled to recover from the Defendants?

ANSWER:  $1.00

What did the jury have to say for itself after the verdict?  Well, they assumed that Plaintiff had health insurance and it probably picked up most of the tab.

True story.  Be afraid.  Very, very, very afraid.

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