||[Jan. 12th, 2016|08:34 pm]
I have ALL SORTS of feelings about jury duty. I was on a civil case that involved a two-car collision. The occupants of one of the cars (the Plaintiffs) were suing the driver of the other car (the Defendant) for negligence. (The driver of the Plaintiffs' car died, and the Plaintiffs suffered a lot of injuries.) The Plaintiffs' car had been turning left at a T intersection (they had the stop sign), and the Defendant (who had no stop sign) basically ran into them.
Note that this was a civil case, which means a) you only have to show 51% burden of proof for the plaintiffs, not "beyond reasonable doubt," and b) you only need 9/12 for a verdict. (I did not know this before this case.)
The police report placed all blame for the accident on the driver of the Plaintiffs' car, for turning when Defendant's car was a hazard. There was an eyewitness to the accident — and not just any eyewitness, whose testimony might reasonably be suspect (and indeed the Defendant's and Plantiffs' eyewitness testimonies ranged from somewhat inconsistent to completely garbled), but an eyewitness who realized that the Plaintiffs' car was doing something dangerous by starting to turn left, and was therefore on high alert, watching everything that was going on really intently because he was really worried a collision was about to happen, so his testimony was relatively clear and detailed.
Most of the Plaintiffs' lawyer's arguments were bordering on ludicrous. For example, there was an inordinate amount of time spent on the speed limit in the area that the accident took place, and whether it was 25 or 40 mph. Speed surveys and city ordinances show the speed limit was 40. The 40mph sign was posted a little farther down the road from where the surveys and ordinances put the speed change to 40mph, so that the Plaintiffs' lawyer was arguing that Defendant was speeding by going more than 25mph in that particular part of the road. Whenever a police officer or expert witness would testify that, in fact, the speed limit was 40mph before the sign even though the sign was a bit farther down, the Plaintiffs' lawyer would declaim, "So, you're saying that we don't have to follow the speed limit signs. People can just drive whatever speed they want to!"
Yeah. That was the kind of "logic" and complete twisting of both facts and testimony that the Plaintiffs' lawyer did all the time. A couple of days before the case ended, I started keeping a tally of every time I felt he was misstating or twisting testimony. I think I got up to 20 in the last couple of days alone.
It took two weeks to hear all the evidence (plus opening and closing statements). Two weeks! Honestly it should not have taken nearly that long.
The most worrying thing was that late in the case, the Plaintiffs' lawyer, almost in spite of himself, brought up some points that I thought brought certain things into question. This turned out to be partially through clever manipulation of words (there was a confusion about curb line vs. stop sign line vs. stop limit line vs. fog line, which the Plaintiffs' lawyer basically used interchangeably, but which actually makes a big difference when you're talking about an accident that took a second or two) and partially because the eyewitness testimony had at that point been two weeks ago, so I'd forgotten a couple of things he'd said. But anyway, it was very clear to me — and you better believe I was cross-checking all the accident reconstructionist calculations — that it took between two to three-and-a-half seconds from the time Plaintiffs' car started crossing the intersection to impact. Two seconds definitely makes it no-fault for the Defendant. Three seconds, or three and a half? It's kind of murky. I've done a lot of counting "Mississipi" under my breath over the last month or so while I was making left turns, and I can tell you that I probably would not make a wide left turn (which this was) while a car was three seconds away, and certainly not without pressing hard on the gas (which the Plaintiff car driver definitely did NOT do) — but — as for the Defendant, maybe a "reasonable driver" would have slowed down, you know? Maybe Defendant was (slightly) negligent. Maybe. I probably would have done the same thing and assumed (as we heard in recorded testimony taken the night of the accident) that the car was going to see him and stop. I don't know.
There was also something odd about alcohol — a test taken three hours after the accident showed a non-negligible amount of alcohol in his system. Some (?) of this, according to Defendant, was due to him swallowing some mouthwash. I know nothing about alcohol (in retrospect, saying this during jury selection might have led to my being placed on the jury), so I deferred to everyone else about that. Most people said that it looked a little fishy but that there wasn't enough evidence and they still thought it was more probable that he wasn't impaired. One guy (the guy who voted negligence, below) said that he had had a lot of experience with alcohol and thought it was more probable the guy was impaired.
I usually come back to saying to myself, in a civil case the Plaintiffs' lawyer has to show a 51% chance Defendant was negligent, and to the best of my knowledge he didn't show that to me. 25%? Yeah. 40%? Maybe. But not 51%. I still think it's more likely than not that he wasn't negligent by the "reasonable person" standard which we were asked to apply. And I think we all agreed that the driver of the Plaintiff's car was more negligent.
But I don't know. I think I'll always be a little worried about that.
I was kind of amused by how much the case was like an episode of a TV show, complete with character lawyers and judge. The judge was the best character; he is the kind of elderly gentleman character who says "Good morning!" very heartily, and expresses his disappointment if his jury doesn't say "Good morning!" back equally as heartily. (The last day of arguments, we said "Good afternoon!" to him before he could say it to us. It took him by surprise. We were all very pleased.) The Defendant's Lawyer was the sort who smiles at everything, even things that aren't actually all that humorous, and was always making humorously sarcastic slightly-slimy-feeling remarks. The Plaintiffs' Lawyer was very… um… bombastic. In his closing arguments he talked a lot about how justice had been denied!! his plaintiffs!! and how juries were a great American institution that would finally!! give his plaintiffs!! justice!!
The Plaintiffs' lawyer was really, really bad, in my opinion. He kept twisting the facts, as above. And during opening arguments he tried to tell this story that there were two things he was going to show, first that Defendant was in the wrong lane, and second that… I'm not even sure what the second thing was because he didn't make it at all clear. I think, in retrospect, it was that Defendant was speeding? (The wrong lane thing was because Defendant swerved into the other lane to try to avoid Plaintiffs' car. ARGH. Way to misrepresent, again.)
I got really annoyed near the end of the case and started showing it with body language, and I am all but certain this influenced Plaintiffs' lawyer into, in closing arguments, that there were three things he was showing, one of which was that Defendant had more than enough time to take evasive action. (Though I wouldn't have known that from his opening arguments!) I just think that a better lawyer would have pushed on that point from the beginning, and done it more honestly, and then — who knows. On the other hand, a better lawyer might have refused to take the case.
I believe that Plaintiffs' lawyer also miscalculated in making the case so long! It was so long, unnecessarily so, that we were already disposed to be annoyed at him, plus which I can't imagine but that people were thinking that if we had to calculate damages we'd be there even LONGER. We were a conscientious jury, and I am pretty sure that didn't affect anyone's conscious reasoning because we all wanted to do the right thing, but I can't imagine that it didn't affect people subconsciously.
Defendant's lawyer was quite good, if only in comparison. He smirked rather too much and it was starting to annoy us (we of course couldn't talk about this at the time, but after coming up with the verdict, while waiting for the court to be ready to read it, we gossiped shamelessly about the lawyers, and it was kind of hilarious how much we all agreed on the lawyers, even those who disagreed on the verdict), but he actually had a logical mind and I understood what he was trying to show. It was also rather interesting that sometimes he'd ask questions that I thought were pointless, but in his closing arguments he came back to those questions and there was always a reason, something he was going towards. For example, he kept asking the plaintiffs if they'd talked to lawyers in the hospital, if they'd signed things, showing them a paper they'd signed, and they kept saying yes, someone had talked to them, no, they didn't remember what they talked about, no, they didn't recognize the sheet of paper, yes, that was their signature. I figured he was just trying to paint them as unreliable, which basically all their testimony did (not untruthful, but definitely unreliable), and didn't see why he was belaboring the point. Turns out he was making a case for the other side's lawyers being ambulance chasers.
There were ten "not negligent" votes, one "negligent" vote, and one who declined to vote. Interestingly, the declination was the lawyer (corporate law) on the jury. I think sometimes, when I'm feeling worried about whether we did the right thing, that maybe he was the only one who realized what a hash the Plaintiff's Lawyer was making of the case, and thought maybe, if you got to the underlying truth...
One thing I had not been prepared for by TV lawyer dramas was that after the verdict was read, the jury and both sides' lawyers went back in the jury room and we all gossiped about the case at great length. (Both lawyers were much nicer in "person" than they had been in court, I have to say. They both were... like... real people.) I had to cut out of this after half an hour, as I had to go pick up the kid, but if I'd known how interesting it would be I would have gotten D to pick her up! It was really interesting. The lawyers, of course, wanted to know why we'd ruled the way we did, and we wanted to know all the details we hadn't got at trial — for example, Defendant's lawyer never called a subject matter expert on alcohol to the stand, and we weren't allowed to know why — it was because the case took too long and their SME got on a plane. Hee. There was also a key witness, the policewoman who was the first police responder on the scene, who kept being referred to but was never called to the stand, and it turns out because she's left the police department and the lawyers couldn't find her!
I'm not sure anyone ever told Plaintiff's Lawyer how annoying his overstatements were — I had to leave — but I hope someone did. I also really, really wish I had thought to ask, before I left, how much Defendant's Lawyer believed his statements about Plantiff's Lawyer being ambulance chasers, and how much of it was just a show for the jury. (Plaintiff's Lawyer had made a big deal about the missing defendant SME, which in retrospect was obviously grandstanding since he knew perfectly well about the case taking too long, and might even have engineered it that way!) At least he provided some evidence…
This experience proved definitively to me that there is no way I could ever be a trial lawyer. Not, necessarily, because I wouldn't like it. There are parts of it I might quite like. But the thing is, it's a game, the whole thing's a game, you take someone's pain and suffering and you make it into a game. And I was enjoying the game, I was enjoying being in the jury and watching the lawyers play against each other. This is the real reason I couldn't do trial law, because I think I'd enjoy the gamesmanship and that would mess with my head after a while. Not to say that trial lawyers are bad, they obviously serve a vital function — but I think they are able to compartmentalize it and make it work in a way I think I just couldn't.
I do feel sorry for the Plaintiffs, who were in a terrible accident through no fault of their own, and who may or may not have even been aware of what they were signing up for. I also feel sorry for the Defendant, who got dragged through this awful thing. Be careful on the road, you guys.
Anyway, it was very interesting, I'm glad I did it, although I worried about my job a lot (thank goodness it was my own project I was stepping out on), and it was hard on our family — and if I got called again while nursing (which is very unlikely to ever happen again) I'd try to put it off until I wasn't nursing. Our court is not that friendly to nursing mothers, and only allows you to postpone three months (!) before reporting, but I could probably have reported and asked for a postponement from the judge (and repeated as necessary) until I wasn't nursing/pumping during the day any more, ugh.
[edited 1-14-16 to use the right word, thanks lightgetsin, blergh]