Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Juror No. 3: The Trial

And so my jury duty saga continues (in case you missed it, I posted Part 1 yesterday)...

Last Monday, I arrived at the courthouse at 9:30 sharp to begin the trial. We were seated in the main jury room with the rest of the jurors called for that day until all of the jurors for our case arrived. Then a court officer (who introduced himself to us as Sherman) came to get us and take us to our jury room. Let me tell you, I got so excited when we walked into that deliberation room! It looked very Twelve Angry Men to me (and frankly, was probably built in the same time period), complete with the long table, wooden chairs, radiator, open window, and tiny seemingly-ancient bathroom off to the side (it didn't even have a mirror!). It was all very exciting!

Twelve Angry Men - classic!

Sherman gave us a little bit of an orientation and assigned us our juror numbers. I officially became Juror No. 3. Then we waited to be called to the courtroom. 

Once they were ready for us in the courtroom, Sherman came up to the jury room to get us (the jury room was up two flights of stairs from the courtroom, so we got our exercise during our jury service as we walked up and down those stairs!), then lined us up in order by juror number. He then knocked on the courtroom door as he opened it and called out "All rise!" as we filed into the jury box. I'm not going to lie, it gave me goosebumps. How cool to be on this side of the process! As Juror No. 3, I was seated in the front row of the jury box, right in the center.

The judge got things started by giving us a long list of instructions and explanations so we knew what was expected of us at trial. They were so long, we took a short break afterwards before the attorneys began opening statements. The Plaintiff's attorney (I'll refer to him as PA for simplicity's sake) went first, followed by the defense attorney (DA).

The gist of the case was this: The Plaintiff, a 45-year-old sales manager from New Jersey, was at the Bronx Zoo one afternoon in 2008 with his wife and two daughters. They were standing in line for the monorail when he realized his youngest daughter (seven years old at the time) was not in line with them. He looked around for her and called out to her. She responded, and he located her about 30 feet away. He left his wife and oldest daughter in line while he went to retrieve her. On his way to her, he tripped over a wooden tree skirt that was missing a plank and fell to his hands and knees. He badly injured his knee and has since had two knee surgeries, injections, physical therapy, etc.

The first witness we heard from after opening statements was the Director of Operations at the zoo. He testified about maintenance procedures at the zoo, and we saw photographs of the offending tree skirt. Although it did not look as bad as I expected based on the PA's opening statements (and I see much more treacherous tree skirts every day all over the city), it was clearly broken and had been for some time. It was definitely something the zoo should have known about and repaired, and the witness said as much in his testimony. I found him to be credible and believed that the zoo did not know about the missing plank before the time of the accident, although they should have. I don't believe they deliberately chose not to repair it; they just didn't realize it was in need of repair.

After this gentleman's testimony, we broke for lunch. As I walked through the plaza across the street towards my lunch destination (admittedly not watching where I was going because I was checking my Blackberry), I nearly tripped over a giant tree trunk in the middle of the walkway, with a big gaping tree well around it. Oh, irony.

After lunch, the plaintiff himself came to the stand. He testified about what happened that day at the zoo, and what he has been going through since. He described how his injury has impacted his life (not only all the surgeries/medical stuff, but also that it hurts to put on his socks, he can't ski with his kids anymore, can't coach their sports teams, etc.). He struck me as very genuine and a nice family man that cares about his kids. I did not get the impression he was just seizing the opportunity to make a quick buck, but that he was genuinely distressed about what happened to him. He seemed like a nice guy.

After his testimony we adjourned for the day and were told to return at 2:00 the next afternoon for the next witness.

Tuesday afternoon the PA called the plaintiff's doctor as their next witness. He testified extensively about the anatomy of the knee (dude, I know so much about knees now!) and Plaintiff's injuries. The PA used a knee model and a number of graphic visual aids to explain things, and I felt the doctor was good at putting things into layman's terms for us. He also testified that the Plaintiff will most likely need one knee replacement in the future, and possibly will even need a second one further down the road when the first wears out (they apparently only last 10-15 years). The doctor's primary downfall was that he only recently started seeing the Plaintiff, although the Plaintiff had been seen by another doctor in the same practice from the time of the accident. Because of that, this doctor was mostly just reading from another doctor's notes, rather than testifying to his own observations through the course of Plaintiff's treatment. 

On cross-examination, the DA brought to our attention that the Plaintiff had pre-existing wear/damage to his knee prior to the zoo accident. He also highlighted that the doctor's notes indicated fairly steady improvement from visit to visit. After the DA's cross-examination, the PA did re-direct and the DA then did re-cross, but I felt the points had been made already. We adjourned for the day at that point.

We returned to the courtroom at 2:00 the next afternoon. At that point, the PA rested his case and the DA called his only witness, another doctor who had performed a one-time independent examination of the Plaintiff. The doctor gave his testimony, which basically said that at the time he examined the Plaintiff, he did not seem to be in much pain and showed no clear signs of arthritis (contrary to what the Plaintiff's doctor had said). When the PA cross-examined him, however, things got very interesting and very heated. 

The doctor refused to answer many questions based on how the PA crafted them. (Having studied procedures for being an expert witness at length in graduate school, I understood the doctor's concern for being forced into a definitive answer that was not fully accurate, but he still came off as very defensive). The PA also brought up one instance for another case in which the doctor performed an evaluation for a man on behalf of the defense, and as a result of an office error, 10 months later evaluated the same man for the plaintiff. Clearly that represents an ethical conflict, but the doctor's physical findings were consistent in the two exams, and only his prognosis in his narrative report differed (the defense had not requested a prognosis but the plaintiff had, so he complied accordingly). The PA worked hard to use this to discredit the doctor, but to me it just showed that his physical findings were not at all swayed by which side hired him. I found the doctor very defensive and unlikeable anyway, but the two reports did not make a difference to me. It got very heated and very intense - very much like you would see on a courtroom drama! It was so interesting to watch.

The doctor's testimony finished up that day as well, and we returned at 10:00 Thursday morning for closing statements. Following closing statements the judge gave us lengthy instructions for deliberations (including one I felt was aimed specifically at me - that we were not to rely on any "personal professional knowledge" as we deliberated). She went through the entire verdict form and gave us the applicable definitions for the various terms on the form. We then retired to the jury room to begin our deliberations. The alternate jurors were released.

Come back tomorrow to read about our deliberations and find out our final verdict!

(After-the-fact edit: find the verdict post here)


Dad said...

You can never go wrong channeling your inner 12 Angry Men!

Anonymous said...

Ooooo! Can't wait to hear the verdict!
Aunt Rachel

Becky said...

This is so very exciting, and I even know how it turned out! You are such a good writer, Meghan!