Monday, February 15, 2010

Angry Jurors!

Boy, here's a story to give the plaintiff's bar the "willies" according to the LA Times recession-worried prospective jurors are in rebellion in certain LA courtrooms.  The following is from Carol Williams's article

Spurned in his effort to get out of jury duty, salesman Tony Prados turned his attention to the case that could cost him three weeks' pay.  A Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy was suing his former sergeant, alleging severe emotional distress inflicted by lewd and false innuendo that he was gay.

Prados, an ex-Marine, leaned forward in the jury box and asked in a let-me-get-this-straight tone of voice: 'He's brave enough to go out and get shot at by anyone but he couldn't handle this?'  he said of the locker-room taunting.  Fellow jury candidate Robert Avanesian, who had also unsuccessfully sought dismissal on financial hardship grounds, chimed in: 'I think severe emotional distress is what is happening in Haiti. I don't think you could have such severe emotional distress from that,' he said of the allegations in the deputy's case.

The spontaneous outbursts of the reluctant jurors just as Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James R. Dunn was about to swear them in emboldened others in the jury pool to express disdain for the case and concerns about their ability to be fair, and to ratchet up the pathos in their claims of facing economic ruin if forced to sit for the three-week trial.  In this time of double-digit unemployment and shrinking benefits for those who do have jobs, courts are finding it more difficult to seat juries for trials running more than a day or two. And in extreme cases, reluctance has escalated into rebellion, experts say. After three days of mounting insurrection, lawyers for both the deputy and the sergeant waived their right to a jury trial and left the verdict up to Dunn.

'We can't have a disgruntled jury,' said attorney Gregory W. Smith, who represents Deputy Robert Lyznick in the lawsuit against his former supervisor. He called the panel 'scary' and too volatile for either side to trust.

Money woes inflicted by the recession have spurred more hardship claims, especially by those called for long cases, say jury consultants and courtroom administrators. More than a quarter of all qualified jurors were released on hardship grounds last year, according to court statistics. And judges say they have seen more people request such dismissals in the last year."
The article is deals with the apparent growing problem of finding jurors who are not prejudiced by their perception of life in the Great Recession and the impact jury service is going to have upon them economically. 

I have extolled jury duty and the wisdom of jurors; but this story should strike a chord with anyone in legal peril civilly or criminally.  By the way, John Grisham termed this "the runaway jury" phenomena--well, this is worse, this is the angry jury.


  1. They pay you $15 a day in Los Angeles if you show and fine you $1500 if you don't. And the judge gets paid about a $1000 a day.

    The jurors should be angry.

  2. I have done jury service, and regarded as my civic duty to do so. It lasted two weeks and my employer payed me fully during those two weeks (I live in England).

    One of the things that struck me as a juror was that the court did not respect my time. Jurors’ time was not seen as a valuable commodity and was frequently wasted. During the two weeks I saw two trials each of which lasted two days. I had to present myself to the court each day, and on a few occasions was sent home immediately, since I was not required for a trial that day. This wasted the time I spent traveling to the court.

    Even when there was a trial on, there was a lot of sitting around waiting. One of the trials was for shoplifting and we had to wait outside the courtroom for over an hour while a videotape machine was set up in the court so that we could view the video evidence. The courtrooms should have been set up permanently for the showing of video evidence (which is presumably fairly common). The trial was in a new (less than ten year old) courthouse, so there was no excuse for not having the facilities to present evidence quickly.

    In one of the trials the barrister for the defence was clearly winging it and the jury’s time was wasted as he consulted the solicitor (who was very well prepared). Even when the barrister is well prepared the solicitor/barrister split we have in England results in jury time being wasted.

    It seems to me that there is a lot of scope for better time management by the court administrators. The court days could also be made longer, so that a juror could take fewer days off work for a given number of court hours.

    Using jurors’ time more efficiently won’t solve the problem of lack of jurors, but it will reduce that problem. If trials were run more efficiently so that more of them could be completed in 5 days, then more jurors would be covered by CT’s 5 day jury duty pay. And if courts didn’t waste so much of jurors’ valuable time, then those jurors would be less angry that their time was being wasted.

  3. Excellent observations--thanks for sharing your experiences in Englans, Martin.

    Among the mysteries of jury service is that a lot of down time occurs because the lawyers, the court and other court personnel are engaged in waiting on one another, negotiating the underlying case, and, or working out presentation of evidence or other technical issues. While the courtroom dramas condition us to believe that what happens in the courtroom is spontaneous in fact very detailed argument and mapping of the evidentiary-testimonial order is done outside of the jury's hearing.

    While this is not to rationalize or justify wasting the time of jurors, sometimes this behind the scenes stuff obviates the necessity of the jury hearing the case at all.