I just finished up my job as a juror on a 2-day civil trial, and I have to say, the more I think about it, the more surreal of an experience it feels like. The whole concept of being on a jury is just such a unique situation, I think it has to feel a little surreal, because I canít think of another situation where you might encounter it in everyday life. A collection of people, sorry, strangers
that have absolutely nothing in common with each other aside from the fact that they all live in the same county, are grouped together and forced to spend the next however many number of days in each others company for 8 hours a day, either sitting next to each other taking notes, or confined to a small jury room during breaks. This group of strangers is then charged with intaking all the facts and circumstances surrounding some kind of situation, and then the group of strangers are supposed to go back to their little jury room, and all reach a consensus agreement on what they think about the happenings of the entire trial. And then, just like that, the strangers pack up their stuff, put on their coats, and leave the courthouse, never to see each other again. How bizarre.
The strangeness of it all didnít really hit me until I left the courthouse. I was making small talk with one of the other jurors in the elevator, discussing how the verdict went, etc. Then she headed out the South exit of the building, while I headed towards the East exit. We both said good-bye, nice to meet you, because really, what else can you say to someone you just met yesterday and are never going to see again? Then we headed our separate ways, with memories of an experience that was shared with only 10 other complete strangers.
Iím not going to get too much into the details of the case (It wasnít a terribly exciting case to be honest), but I did want to talk about my experience as a whole, as I felt like that was the interesting part of it all. This was my first time reporting for jury duty, and therefore my first time being selected as a juror. Looking back I think the circumstances for myself were pretty ideal. I had to report to the Daley Center downtown in the Loop as it was a civil case, instead of the courthouse at 26th and California for a criminal case, which Iíve heard is not a very nice neighborhood. Itís very close to where I live so I was able to walk (In contrast someone had come up from 203rd St or something ridiculous like that, basically as far South into Cook County as you can go). The case I was selected for was only a two day trial, instead of something that could have lasted weeks. And the stakes in the case were relatively low (Which I know is a matter of perspective, the total damages that the plaintiffs were seeking was around $15-20,000 which to me is a lot of money, but it could be much, much worse), so I felt like it was a lower pressure situation than it could have been, at least from a jurorís perspective.
I showed up at 9:30am, and in contrast to many of the waiting horror stories I had heard, I was only waiting for an hour until my group number was called and we were marched up to our courtroom. There were 28 of us, and the judge explained that this was just a two day trial and that 14 of us would be selected. Once I realized half of us were getting picked I just had this feeling in my gut that I was going to be one of the jurors. There were clearly a couple of characters in the group based on their answers to the questions, but overall it seemed like a relatively normal group of people. After a couple hours the questions were done, the lawyers had picked their 14, and those who were not picked were free to go about their day while the rest of us set up shop in the jury room to eat free Cook County sandwiches before getting around to opening statements. I emailed my boss and texted my wife to let them know my next couple of days were going to be occupied.
The actual trial went about as one would expect, we as a culture have been so inundated with courtroom drama on TV that watching it all play out in real life is pretty standard fare. Sure the courtrooms arenít quite as flashy, the lawyers arenít quite as well spoken and there wasnít much of a crowd to spectate, but youíve got your opening statements, your witnesses, your court reporters, your cross examinations, your objections, everything youíd come to expect. I didnít care much for the lead plaintiffís attorney, he was a little slimy and would continue to try and hammer away at the same question or area even after the defense attorney successfully objected to the questions. Several times this led to a sidebar with the judge, one time even pushing us into a recess so the judge could get things straightened out. It got a little tiresome. The defendantís attorney was pretty aggressive, she loved nothing more than to object to everything the plaintiffís attorney had to say whether she had a chance or not, and she definitely gave it to a couple of witnesses during cross-examination. It was kind of cool to see the clashing personalities.
Day one was mostly without incident, although the toughest part was when the plaintiffís kids came in to testify. Most of the jurors were just uncomfortable about the whole thing, because you hate to see kids put in a serious situation like this, and their testimony isnít likely to be too useful since theyíre kids (8 and 10 at that, itís not like theyíre teenagers). It was quite difficult going home at the end of the day knowing you canít talk about the details of the case. Especially since generally conversations at home tend to be about, you know, how your day went
So today rolled around, I got to the courthouse and headed straight to the confines of our cozy Jury Room. Apparently our friend way down on 203rd St. was unable to join us for day two for some reason, but I also learned that that wasnít the end of the world, because we only needed 12 people here to get started (I learned why later on). Day two went by relatively incident-free, and I was actually surprised because the defenseís case actually only involved one witness, the defendant herself, and then that was it.
And oh my gosh, the closing arguments. Wow. I actually thought the lawyers handled themselves pretty well for the most part during the trial, but that all went out the window for the closing arguments. I felt like I was watching a political debate it was so ridiculous. Each sideís closing argument could basically be summed up by saying ďCLEARLY my client is at no fault here and I donít see how you could see it any other way and you should find in favor of my client for all these million reasons some of which arenít even remotely true but Iíll say them anyway even though you can just fact check them with your notes and know theyíre lies also my client didnít do anything obviously so find in favor with my client. Seriously though, they didnít do anything. AT ALL.Ē Only it was much less funny and lasted about a half hour. KILL ME NOW. I did my best to try and look as bored as possible for both of them in the hopes that they would get the hint and shut up. It was so completely useless and boring. After that the judge out of nowhere called out one of the jurorís names seemingly at random and told them to pack up their stuff and go. As I said before we only had 13 jurors today, and the whole time I thought it was odd that we had 14 jurors selected as I thought a jury was 12 people. Well, turns out two are alternates and when it comes down to it only 12 of us got to decide on the verdict. I have no idea if the 13th juror was selected at random or if he was always an alternate. Anyway, then the judge gave us our instructions and sent us on our merry way to decide on a verdict.
I ended up being elected foreman of the jury. Okay, well maybe I volunteered and no one else volunteered, and maybe I kind of wanted to because Iím a bit of a control freak (Stop nodding your head knowingly) and deep in my brain I think things will run more smoothly if Iím in charge of things. I donít remember how long we ended up deliberating, it was probably a couple of hours. Itís actually funny, the quickest part of the process was deciding to find in favor of the plaintiff. The hard part was assigning percentages of negligence to both sides and agreeing on monetary damages to pay out. It was during this process that you really notice the flaws in both the plaintiffís and the defendantís cases. There was definitely key information that was inexplicably missing, which did nothing but make our jobs harder as we had to try and piece together what had happened as best we could.
Oh, and also, the lying. I know Iím probably just naive, but I figured all the lying you saw under oath on TV was just for dramatic effect. I can tell you that no it is not. Both the plaintiff and the defendant pretty clearly lied about their story of events, which wasnít even that hard to figure out based on the other evidence that came to light. So not only do you not have important information that would help you shape the case, but you have lies on both sides and have to try and wade through that and figure out whatís real and whatís not. Like I said, this is why I was glad to have a relatively low profile case and not someone whoís on trial for murder or anything like that.
We had one guy on the jury who had pretty differing views from us on how things should play out from a monetary standpoint, and that ended up being the biggest roadblock for us. It was a discussion surrounding a monetary award for pain and suffering, and in my opinion he was trying to bring aspects in that really werenít part of what we should be talking about. I think ultimately he felt bad that the plaintiff was primarily a victim in all of this but she was still going to be at a loss when it was all said and done as she was partially at fault and also having to pay out lawyerís fees, stuff like that. I could certainly sympathize with where he was coming from but as the jury we had to focus on what weíre supposed to think about, and stuff like lawyerís fees donít come into play.
Eventually we all got on the same page, I donít think the other guy was totally happy with how things played out, but he agreed with everyone else and signed the verdict. Iím not gonna lie, when the judge read out the verdict, I didnít make eye contact with either side of the case. I knew it was a situation where neither party would be very happy (The plaintiff wouldnít be happy because she wasnít getting her full reward, and the defendant wouldnít be happy because she was found mostly negligible and had to pay out a good amount of money), and I didnít really feel like seeing eitherís reaction. Once we were excused, we went back to our room, collected our $34.20 ($17.20 a day baby, BIG BUCKS), put on our coats and said bye to everyone. The judge told us if we wanted to we could stick around afterwards as the lawyers wanted to ask us a bit about the process, so I stuck around and another juror did as well. They didnít ask us anything too hard hitting, and I was a little bummed out that I didnít get to tell them how poorly they handled certain parts of their case, but whatever.
And just like that, itís back to work tomorrow. While I didnít enjoy the work piling up while I was out of the office for two days, I will say Iím thankful for the experience. It was such a neat look into an area of life that you rarely encounter, and the prospect of being a juror is something I may never get to experience again. I am very glad that at the end of the day it was a relatively painless process, and frankly the whole thing was fascinating. At least fascinating enough that I spent the entire walk home thinking about how I was going to approach the blog post that I was going to write about it that night. Well, that and which movie I was going to reference for the title of the blog post. Fortunately for A Few Good Men
it was on TV when I went to bed last night, so they won the honors. No offense to Joe Pesci or Henry Fonda of course.