I have assisted attorneys in selecting juries since 1991. That’s a long time. I have been involved in hundreds of jury selections across the U.S.A., from Alaska to Florida. Never, until recently, have I witnessed a judge asking a large panel of potential jurors the following question: “Who wants to serve as a juror on this case?”. In every case except this one, the judges inquire about the potential jurors’ hardships, defined as something that would make it difficult or impossible to be a juror. Common hardships are: financial, including not being paid by one’s employer when someone is not working or is self employed; being the sole care giver for a young child, a disabled spouse, or an elderly parent; being a college student and unable to miss classes; and having non-refundable airline tickets for a trip during the course of the trial. Judges routinely excuse potential jurors for these reasons, as well as others. Usually, when the judge asks the question, “Who has a hardship that would prevent them from serving on this jury, which will last X number of days, weeks, or months?” many people raise their hands, then precious time is spent listening to everyone’s reasons and excuses for why they should be excused from jury duty. This is, in my opinion, a huge waste of time and resources and could, and should, be handled by the court administrator prior to bringing the jurors into the courtroom, leaving only those people who have been vetted for jury duty for a certain length of time on the panel. In the recent jury selection when the judge inquired about “reverse hardships,” it was amazing to me how many prospective jurors were willing to participate on a jury for a three week trial. The clever judge never opened the usual floodgates to allow the whining and complaining we usually hear from people who think someone else should fulfill their civic duty, due to their self inflated view of themselves. Instead, we were left with people who truly wanted to perform one of the greatest roles we, as citizens of the U.S.A., can perform (second only to serving in the military). As a result, the jury selection process went smoothly and the attorneys on both sides of the case were able to obtain the best possible jurors, in the most efficient manner I have ever witnessed.
In that I do not do the in-court consultation as Melissa does, it is difficult to comment on this experience directly. But, it is refreshing to hear of a positive action, an improvement, made to the jury selection system. Having a judge “think out of the box” (oh, how I hate that overused phrase), and come up with a new solution, one that can elicit an affirmative response, and then work from that positive place, is impressive. Too often, many elements of serving as a juror, or prospective juror, are frustrating. I know, I’ve been called at least 5 times for jury duty and was selected once. As a potential juror, one is herded around the courthouse after getting out of the assembly room. In the assembly room, prospective jurors are talked to/at and sometimes wait for hours as the process slowly grinds along. Once moved to a courtroom, the shuffling and often unfamiliar process continues. It is tiresome and many people try creative ways to “get out of jury duty,” not realizing (or caring about) the importance of it all. And, at least on the cases for which I’ve been in the venire, the voir dire skills of the attorneys have been poor. (I believe most of our clients are many cuts above these attorneys as I’ve mostly been called for routine criminal cases and the overworked state attorneys and public defenders in those cases were still building their skill sets. They go through the motions sometimes and don’t really listen to the responses.) I’m encouraged when Melissa reports experiences like these where the judges “get it” and try to make the process efficient and effective. There is always room for improvement and it seems Melissa’s experience shows that efforts are being made.