In my 30 year career as a jury/trial consultant, I have assisted attorneys in the jury selection process in over 200 trials. (And, just to be clear, I really don’t want to hear about the 1 time you were on a jury. I really don’t.) All of the trials on which I have worked are high stakes, big dollar cases that involve more than a mere few days of everyone’s time. I have selected juries in cases that lasted weeks, even months, leading the jurors to try to avoid jury service by providing excuses they believe are rock solid but which are, in fact, pretty lame to the judge and attorneys who have heard the same old excuses many times. I recently selected a jury on a sizable case that involved a 3 week trial. Because there were several hundred prospective jurors in the courtroom, the attorneys and I turned around our chairs to face them, while they were seated in the gallery (the audience section of a courtroom), with our backs to the judge. Upon hearing the dreaded news that the trial was expected to last 3 weeks, I observed the faces of the jurors as they registered shock, dismay, and incredulity over having to sacrifice 3 weeks of their lives on jury duty. Although the judge emphasized jury duty is the second highest duty of every citizen of the United States of America (after the highest duty, military service) and further, that the experience would be “as pleasurable as possible,” the majority of the faces I saw wore pained, not pleased, expressions. I immediately wrote notes in preparation for writing this post. The first thing that came to mind was, if the judge is correct that jury duty is the second highest duty we have as citizens, what could be so important in the average person’s life that would exempt him/her from serving on the jury? In that, in my opinion, most people live a rather mundane, uneventful existence, such that they would probably not be missed if they were on a jury from Monday through Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., for 3 weeks, how is it that these people could possibly believe they had something better to do? What would these so called better things be? Playing in a pickle ball tournament at a 55 plus community, as one juror mentioned when requesting to be excused? Attending a matinee performance of “The Lion King” with a grandchild, as another juror mentioned when trying to evoke sympathy? What else? Due to the fact that, for the people whose lives depend on a jury’s decision, the trial is of utmost importance, the tired excuses often appear, at least to me, to be extremely selfish and misplaced. Some people’s “it’s all about ME” attitude never ceases to amaze me. Reality check: It’s not all about you and it never will be all about you, so wake up and do your civic duty.
I have not sat in the seat Melissa mentions looking into the faces of the jurors, but I have been one of those being questioned a few times. And, I’ve seen some faces made by those among the venire along the lines she described. (Some of the faces looking at the venire members were not all that warm and friendly, but that is perhaps another story.) Having been called for jury duty, I can report I’ve heard some of the lame excuses. And, I’ve seen the prepared video about why jury duty is so important. Certainly those of us who depend on jurors to participate in their clients’ cases understand it, but for some reason, jury duty has a bad “rap.” There is much research on post trial juror reactions to jury duty which demonstrates that, after the trial, they understand how their efforts contribute to society such that jury duty becomes meaningful to them. The challenge is to find ways to communicate this and to try the case in a way to make it more interesting than a game of pickle ball. Showing the well deserved appreciation for the venire members’ attendance and participation is a first step. Jurors are what make the trial possible for most cases; respecting them for that and finding ways to ensure they are comfortable and well treated is also critical. We’ve incorporated a page within our primary website, to explain this to prospective jurors https://magnusweb.com/about-jury-duty/
We know we depend on them for our livelihoods; the same is true of our clients’ livelihoods. A bit of positive reinforcement is worth the effort.
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