This is the first in a series of posts based on a general theme, “Crazy Mock Juror Stories.” I have been working with human research participants since 1977; in the early days of my studies and career, we psychologists referred to anyone who participated in our research as “subjects.” Now, the socially acceptable term is “participants,” but in the context of my work as a litigation research consultant, research participants are commonly known as mock jurors. During the many years I have been working for attorneys involved in high stakes litigation, I have had the opportunity to interact with thousands upon thousands of ordinary people who participate in our mock trials, focus groups, and other research. The people who participate as mock jurors are jury eligible citizens of the place where the trial will be held (in lawyers’ words, the trial venue). Magnus recruits its mock jurors “the right way,” by randomly recruiting them to match the demographics of the actual jurors. (Most of our competitors recruit the mock jurors “the wrong way,” that is, via various means of unscientific and therefore, biased sampling, methods.) Given that we randomly recruit our mock jurors, we know nothing about them until they arrive at the research site. I have met many nice, interesting, and otherwise wonderful people who have participated as mock jurors, but the ones who stand out are anything but nice people. Oh, the stories I can tell! I will begin this series of posts with one of my all time favorites; this true story happened many years ago when I was working for someone else prior to founding Magnus. My former employer used to conduct mock trials in her office, located in a large building in which the restrooms were accessed via a pass key obtained from the office manager. One of the female mock jurors asked for the pass key during a break in the mock trial, but she never returned. Interestingly, neither did one of the male mock jurors, even though he never asked for the key to the men’s restroom. The attorneys who were our clients that day were impatient and asked to reconvene the mock trial without the two missing mock jurors. My boss, however, had another idea and instructed me to search for them. It didn’t take me long to find them: They were both in the women’s restroom at the counter near the sinks snorting cocaine! Welcome to Miami! Upon locating them, I politely asked them to put the drugs away and return to the mock trial because, without them, we wouldn’t have enough mock jurors to continue. All I told the clients was that I found the two missing people. When they remarked that these two mock jurors were more “animated” during the last half of the mock trial than they had been earlier, I said, “Yes, they do seem very energetic!”. Even now, decades after this happened, I still chuckle over some of the funny experiences I have had including some, like this one, that weren’t funny when they happened but have since become part of my experiences as a trial consultant.
I was in the office the day of this particular event, but not directly participating in the mock jury research. However, when the hunt was on for the missing mock jurors, I became aware that something was amiss, especially upon seeing Melissa’s (that is, Dr. Pigott, during business hours) expression. Clearly something was wrong, but everyone was in the “show must go on” mode. Only later did I learn what had happened and, while I usually like to learn from such experience to ensure that similar problems never recur, I found such an event so unforeseeable that I am still left wondering what one can do to prevent such an event. I don’t know. Miami or not, having the male and female juror in the ladies room, with or without the drugs, is hard to imagine. They took such a high risk (ok, pun intended) of being caught – these were not individual restrooms, but rather, with several stalls and large enough for several “customers.” I still wonder whether they knew each other before the mock jury (considering that the consultant we worked for did recruit “the wrong way”, this is a possibility). But, if they did not know each other, how in the world could they have made a deal to meet in the restroom and indulge in cocaine on what was supposed to be a 5 minute break? To my knowledge, we have never had another event involving cocaine use. We have had mock jurors hit the hotel lobby bar during mock jury research (we often work in hotel conference space – and we can’t control for the location of the bar). This has been difficult enough, but imagining what could have happened if this pair of misfits was caught by another mock juror, or worse, one of the lawyers, is horrifying. The show did go on and the trial team learned things it needed to learn, so it seems all was well that ended well. The memory, however, lingers.