- Ignore his views and go their own way?
- Treat him like any other juror?
- Ask him questions and look to him for guidance?
Senator Professor Juror, Esq. and Ph.D
"My selection as an actual juror certainly came as a surprise," wrote Robert Martin. "I had assumed - because I was a state senator, law professor, practicing attorney and father of a local lawyer - that the judge or at least one of the trial lawyers would seek my removal."
You can see why he assumed that. "Lawyer" only begins to describe why other jurors might defer to Robert Martin. He's an elected official, a sitting New Jersey state senator, and has been for fourteen years. He's been a teacher and legal scholar longer than that, a full-time member of Seton Hall Law School's faculty. His Seton Hall bio says he also has a Ph.D in education. But he was left on the jury in a slip-and-fall case against ShopRite last year. He was selected as foreman at random, and the jury awarded $876,000.
Presumably that would have been that, at least as far as Sen. Prof. Dr. Martin's jury service was concerned, except that he wrote about it. He published an article in the New Jersey Law Journal last December, describing the experience. (The article is here; it's subscription only, but there's a 30-day free trial.)
The juror's-eye view
It's a good article. Martin described, as other jurors have, the fascinating dynamic of a diverse group of strangers trying to decide a case:
Perhaps the most indelible observation is that jurors really do take their obligation seriously. Every juror I encountered tried to do what was right and what was fair. Although some may not have originally wanted to participate, once appointed they accepted their role and performed conscientiously. By being one of them, I gained a much deeper appreciation for their service, sacrifice, and most importantly, sincerity.
He defended the verdict against those who might assume "that someone who happened to fall in a supermarket and proceeded to sue the owner must be a con artist out to make a fast buck." It came down to credibility, he explained:
What seemed to be overlooked was that, in this case, all six jurors had found the plaintiff highly credible and, conversely, had determined that the defendant had misrepresented the facts after having failed to exercise reasonable care.
He noted too that the jurors' job wasn't made easy. There was no note-taking, not even on the hour-long oral jury instructions. There was no coffee in the "coffee breaks." When the trial was extended for a day, no one asked the jurors about the effect on their schedules.
Oh, and one other thing
And then he said something that has had the verdict in the newspapers and the appellate courts ever since. Because of that something, the New Jersey Appellate Division ruled in January (I can't find a copy, even on Westlaw) that the judge needed to "conduct proceedings to explore allegations of jury misconduct." The same court ruled yesterday that the hearing, in which all the jurors will testify, has to be public. Here's the paragraph that is causing all the stir:
Over the course of our deliberation I became increasingly aware that other jurors were relying on me for assistance, especially in dealing with abstract legal concepts and procedural issues. For example, I was asked to clarify what the judge meant by "proximate cause" and its significance in proving a negligence claim. I do think my familiarity with the law proved helpful to fellow jurors; but I remain undecided as to whether it's advisable to have a lawyer serve on a jury — especially as its foreman. I am convinced that in our case my opinions swayed other jurors and were extremely influential in the final outcome.
Well of course they did.
Of course the others relied on him, and of course his opinions were extremely influential. Even if the others hadn't been time-pressured, caffeine-starved, and bereft of any notes, they would have relied on him.
I've only read what I'm citing here, so I can't say whether anything was wrong with this New Jersey verdict. But as a reminder for the rest of us, the story is timely even if it may be incomplete. It highlights what may be one of the biggest disconnects between trial lawyers and jury reality: the role of juror expertise.
The role of juror experts
I've written that mock trials don't predict the outcome of trials, but they're good for a lot of other things, and one of them is understanding how juries work. You don't have to watch many mock trials to see that one of the strongest forces in the jury room is individual juror expertise: jurors defer to other jurors' experience and knowledge. If your trial is about lawn mowers and one juror repairs lawn mowers at the hardware store, you're unlikely to win without his support. If your trial is about safety in a restaurant and one juror owns a restaurant, you're unlikely to win without her support.
And if your trial is about law -- that is, if your trial is a trial -- and one juror is a lawyer, you're unlikely to win without the lawyer's support. If the lawyer is also a community leader, experienced teacher, articulate writer, published author, elected official, and apparently respectful of the group and pretty skilled in understanding what it needs, "extremely influential" is the very least you can expect.
Update on past posts:
Richard Glawson, the defendant who got a new jury after he punched a juror in Boston, screwed up his trial again yesterday by threatening to execute the entire new panel. The news sources don't discuss whether and to what extent mental health is the issue here.
(Photo by Mai Le at http://www.flickr.com/photos/maile/1745480/; license details there.)