The California Court of Appeal described the scene:
During his rebuttal argument, respondent's trial counsel argued that appellant's witnesses were lying about many issues, including the reason it lost the new account. Then counsel read to the jury the standard instruction that, " 'if you decide that that a witness has deliberately testified untruthfully about something important, you may choose not to believe anything that witness said.' " At that point, Juror No.2 applauded by clapping her hands. Respondent's counsel continued his argument without commenting on the juror's applause.
"This must have left appellant's counsel with a sinking feeling," the court noted, with admirable empathy.
The trial judge did the smart thing and quizzed the jurors, each separately. (As we've discussed, whether juror glitches lead to reversal often depends on how well the trial judge did "the ask.") Nothing much turned up:
When questioned about it, Juror No. 2 explained, "I was pleased with the statement that was read whereas if it was proved that somebody lied on the stand that all of their testimony could be dismissed." Each of the remaining jurors remembered the incident; no one stated that it would impact their impartiality. Jurors found the applause odd, embarrassing or an expression of stress. None could recall the statement that prompted or immediately preceded the clapping.
So the trial judge let the jury finish the trial, and refused a new trial even after another juror signed an affidavit saying No. 2 was "physically confrontation [sic], putting her face very close to me, speaking very loudly and pounding on the table," and that she had "referred to her own expertise in accounting to support her arguments to the jurors."
The Court of Appeal had no trouble upholding all of this, ticking off the applause, the pushiness, and the claim to higher accounting knowledge as just part of an imperfect world:
"The jury system is fundamentally human, which is both a strength and a weakness. . . . Jurors are not automatons. They are imbued with human frailities as well as virtues. If the system is to function at all, we must tolerate a certain amount of imperfection short of actual bias. To demand theoretical perfection from every juror during the course of a trial is unrealistic."
The case is Bandana Trading Co., Inc., v. Quality Infusion Care, Inc., decided yesterday. It's noted also at California Appellate Law Blog. That last quote is from In re Carpenter (1995) 9 Cal.4th 634.
(Photo by Kevin Flanagan at http://flickr.com/photos/kevflanagan/364568552/; license details there.)