In this series of “crazy mock juror stories,” I have been writing, until now, about specific instances involving mock jurors who conducted themselves in less than stellar ways. I have many more funny stories, as well as others which are anything but funny, about my life among research participants, including mock jurors. As a social psychologist, all of my research has been conducted on humans, as opposed to other types of animals, and believe me, humans are much more difficult to control than other animals, including cats! One of the strangest situations I have encountered during my career as a jury/trial consultant involves mock jurors who completely disappear during our research. This situation, fortunately, doesn’t happen often but when it does, it perplexes everyone involved in the mock trial. Where did the mock juror go? Did something happen to upset the mock juror? Did the mock juror get sick? Did the mock juror have a heart attack or other medical emergency? Did the mock juror receive a disturbing phone call (even though we instruct all participants to disable their phones)? Is the mock juror a spy sent by one of our nefarious competitors? Is the mock juror a spy sent by opposing counsel on this case? Is the mock juror actually a member of the media instead of who he/she said she is, such that we can expect to read an exposé about the case? What happened? Mock trials last many hours and sometimes, several days. We don’t pay anyone until we are finished, to ensure that they stay until the end. We have to allow the mock jurors to take restroom and meal breaks and, if the mock trial lasts more than one day, we have to allow them to go home for the night(s) between the research days. In the unusual event when someone disappears, we search for him/her, but we eventually have to stop our search and resume the mock trial for the sake of our clients and the other mock jurors. Usually, the missing person re-appears, interrupting our research, and when possible depending on how much he/she has missed, we allow the tardy person to continue as a mock juror. However, on the rare occasions when we completely lose the mock juror, we never know what happened to him/her. Our follow up calls, emails, and letters go unanswered and it is as if the mock juror disappeared off the face of the earth. We ultimately chalk it up to the experience of the oddities of dealing with human research participants, but we still wonder what happened!
We know that occasionally a mock juror has become ill and left the research. We know that emergencies at home or with friends have caused a few mock jurors to depart early. But, despite making efforts to track them down even after the research, a few mock jurors have, over the past 25-30 years, vanished. They don’t answer their phone or return our calls when we try to find out what happened. We have to wonder, what happened? Were they just bored? It could be some were bored, given some attorneys’ presentations! Were they emotionally overwhelmed by the case at hand? Did it hit too close to home? Did it bring back bad memories? Was the lawsuite too complex? There are many possibilities. And, it would be nice if these jurors would at least tell us because we waste so much time trying to locate them. But, that is apparently not how they live their lives and we must deal with it. Once again though, the reminder is that jurors are people first, and people can be unpredictable. As trial consultants, part of our job is to predict case outcomes (well, not really, but that is the simple story); these experiences prove that nothing is 100% predictable. Even the simple things can be a challenge. It is said that showing up is 9/10s of the job. These “1/10ers” pull everyone down.