When we conduct mock jury research, we slightly over recruit the mock jurors/participants to ensure that we have adequate coverage for the size of the actual trial jury panel. In Florida, this usually means recruiting 10 people to ensure we have enough mock jurors for a 6 person panel. Our show rate averages 8 people and we typically keep all who show up because the more data we have with which to work, the stronger the findings will be. Trial juries usually have alternates who may or may not deliberate, but a few extra voices are typically helpful to us. It is extremely rare when we have to dismiss someone who has been recruited, and who passed our rescreening on the day of the research. This post is one our war story recollections of when the usual was unusual. We have had to send home a few jurors over the years when they have been too upset by the subject matter, for example, when something about the case hit too close to home. We have dismissed a few others who have refused to go along with the rules and protocol for the day – therefore disrupting the research process. In other posts we have recounted the mock jurors who have gone missing or engaged in improper/illegal behavior. But, the vast majority of our mock jurors accept that we are asking them, and paying them, to participate according to our protocols. They play by the rules. One glaring exception to this occurred in our home venue of Broward County when an obviously racist middle aged white guy let down his guard midway through the proceeding and started using racially derogatory language directed toward one of our research associates who is from Jamaica. Calling him “boy” and using other hate filled words, this mock juror tried to assume control of the deliberations in defiance of our strict research protocols. And, he was shocked when we (as politely as possible) asked him to leave immediately. The fact he was shocked is what shocked us! To him, it was perfectly acceptable to talk to our employee in this manner. Perhaps, in a world where we experience extreme vitriol in a presidential campaign, it is more common than some of us realize. But, it was disruptive to all of the remaining mock jurors who were relieved to learn that Mr. Mean Spirit was dismissed from the group. As the realization hit him that he was being dismissed while I escorted him from the conference center and from the hotel, he became combative with me to the point that I had to ask the hotel security staff to intervene and keep him off the premises. Again, Mr. Mean Spirit stated he was entitled to stay – but the security of our team and the mock jurors dictated otherwise and the security folks caught on quickly. It is so rare to experience something like this that it is hard to be prepared for the day it happens. But, reacting quickly is critical to avoid any escalation in such a scenario all the while ensuring that the show must go on!
The fastest way for a mock juror or other research participant to get kicked out of a research exercise is to insult, harass, or assault one of my staff members. My research associates and research technicians are top notch. They have been trained by David and me to perform all aspects of their jobs with excellence. Many of our staff have been with us for a decade or more. They know how to perform their jobs and they are well versed in how to handle difficult people in stressful situations. As a result, on the rare occasions when one of our employees is targeted by a client or a research participant, I always give my employee the benefit of the doubt. On the night when my employee was verbally assaulted by this racist mock juror, I was watching and listening to everything that was happening via closed circuit television. In fact, many of the things my employee was asking the mock juror to do were being said by me, via walkie talkie to my employee, then repeated to the mock juror by my employee. The first time I heard the mock juror refer to my employee as “boy,” I questioned my hearing (which, by the way, is excellent). I thought to myself, “Surely, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2014, this old white guy didn’t just call my young black male employee ‘boy.’ I must have heard it incorrectly.” But, of course, I had heard it correctly. When the mock juror called my employee “boy” again, followed by referring to him with the hate filled “n” word, I leapt out of my seat, ran to the deliberations room, stopped the mock jury deliberations, and told the nasty man to gather all of his belongings and come with me. I told the man to wait in the hallway until I could get David to help me; I figured this guy hates women of any color with as much virulence as he hates black people. I explained to David what had happened, then left David to remove the man from the premises. When I returned to my mock jurors, they applauded me for getting rid of this toxic person! I apologized to my employee who, sadly, said this sort of thing happens to him and his family on a regular basis. As a write this, I do so with the recognition that racism and sexism are far from being things of the past; they are part of many people’s identity. My work as a psychologist is far from being finished!