Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Juror No. 3: Jury Selection

Last week, I spent my days here:

NYC -  New York County Supreme Courthouse 

I was serving as a juror for the New York Supreme Court. And it was awesome.

Because of my work in jury consulting, I have been dying to even be called for jury duty, let alone actually serve on a jury. I realize that I have never really spoken in detail here about what I do for a living. Much of my specific work is confidential, so rather than worry about figuring out what I can say and what I can't, I just don't say anything. But I can tell you generally what I do, and in doing so you may be able to see why I was so excited to be selected as a juror!

I work as a research associate for jury consulting firms (currently on a subcontractor basis). We are hired by attorneys (or sometimes court-appointed) to assist in jury selection. Some of what I do involves pre-trial research, such as focus groups and mock trials. I help organize them, assemble the materials for the project, help run some of the groups, and do much of the post-project data entry and analysis. I also help draft juror questionnaires for trial, and do data entry and analysis of completed questionnaires. I help write voir dire questions (that's when jurors are called in and questioned by attorneys or the judge during the selection process). I research jury selection procedures for different jurisdictions and the population demographics of that jurisdiction. I observe jury selection and help the attorneys with whatever they need. So on and so forth.

Through my experiences running focus groups and mock trials, I have watched many groups of mock jurors listen to a case presentation and then deliberate as a real jury would. I have just been dying to have my own opportunity to do that! And last week, I did. 

Now, please understand that this was really an incredible experience for me. It was so amazing to be involved in the process from the other side of the jury box - to see the dynamics of an actual deliberating jury, to be charged with weighing the evidence and arguing and debating to reach a verdict, and to make a decision that would impact people's lives. So, my recap of the whole process is going to be lengthy (consider yourselves warned!). To try to keep things organized (and as short as possible), I have decided to divide my recap of my experience into three parts. Today, I will just be talking about how I came to be selected as a juror. Tomorrow, I will discuss the actual trial. And Thursday, I will recap our jury deliberations and our final verdict. So please, follow along if you're interested! And if you're not, well, just come back on Friday.

Here we go!

I was called for jury duty for the Tuesday and Wednesday immediately following Labor Day. I arrived at the New York Supreme Courthouse early Tuesday morning and took my seat in the huge jury room with all my other fellow jurors. We went through a bit of an orientation (watched a video, received instructions from the jury clerk, etc.) and filled out a very brief juror questionnaire (name, address, occupation, etc.). Then were told just to wait. I did not have to wait long before they selected 31 people to fill the first jury panel of the day. They randomly called 31 names, and mine was the third name called. The 31 impaneled jurors were sent to Jury Selection Room A.

We were seated in the order that we were called. The jury clerk and a judge came in to tell us what to expect and introduced the attorneys. We then took a short break while the attorneys reviewed our questionnaires.

When we returned to the room we learned that this case was a civil trip-and-fall case against the Wildlife Conservation Society (more specifically, the Bronx Zoo). Then the questioning began. They started with just the first 16 jurors in the room. The remaining 16 were instructed to just listen and wait to be questioned later.

The plaintiff's attorney questioned us first, primarily asking about our opinions of the Bronx Zoo and how we felt about awarding damages against the zoo. After a quick break the defense attorney questioned us as well. When it was my turn for questioning, he first asked about my lawyer husband, which I anticipated. He also asked what I do, and seemed to visibly recoil when I mentioned jury consulting, so I did not expect to be chosen. However, I assured him that my job is to find the most unbiased jury possible for my client, and if I felt I could not afford the parties in this case that same right, I would make that known. He seemed satisfied with that answer.

We took another break for lunch while the attorneys discussed their options. I called Eric and told him I was questioned but doubted I would be selected, based on the defense attorney's reaction to my work in jury consulting. However, I remained hopeful!

And to my surprise, I was selected. Only five were chosen from the first 16 questioned, so the remaining set of 16 prospective jurors had to stay to be questioned as well. Those of us who were selected were released for the day and told to call a certain number over the weekend to get our reporting time for Monday, when the trial was scheduled to start. By the end of the day, there were eight jurors chosen in total: six jurors and two alternate jurors. 

And so we all went home for the rest of the week/weekend, ready to hear the case on Monday morning! Stay tuned for that tomorrow!

(After-the-fact edit: click here to read about the trial, and here to read about the deliberations and verdict.)

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