Saturday, December 18, 2010

It's Your Civic Duty.

"In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law." - Amendment VII, US Constitution

I am sure you can guess what I have been doing recently.  Yes, I was summoned for jury duty.  YAY!  That's not feigned excitement either.  I was genuinely happy for the opportunity to possibly have to sit on a jury.  You may consider it strange, but I think jury duty should be taken very seriously.  You never know when you'll be on the other side, and do you want a group of pissed off, uninterested people deciding on something that's possibly very important to you?

I think I'm going to break this down into three parts:  the selection process, the trial, and the deliberation.  It's easier that way and I have A LOT to say about everything that I witnessed.

Jury Selection

Apparently, 300 people were issued summons for the week of December 13th.  The people with odd numbers were excused from service and did not have to show up to the courthouse on Monday.   We had to report to the Jury Assembly Room at 10am on Monday morning to fill out a questionnaire and read our juror handbooks until everything was ready for the cases that were scheduled for that week.   One of the first things that I noticed was that things moved quite slowly.  After we were qualified and sworn in, and people were allowed to claim exemptions, they called roll and issued our jury badges.  We were then released for lunch for two hours.  *yawn*

I realized that this was going to take all day.  

And might I note, no cell phones with cameras are allowed inside the courthouse, so I was going through a mighty text/facebook/twitter withdrawal.  

We started up thirty minutes or more after we were required to report back to the assembly room, and they called the names and numbers of forty people who were selected as potential jurors for civil trial beginning THE NEXT MORNING.  The time we had to be back at the courthouse was 830am.  If you know me, then you know that I don't even get to work that early.  I'm not bragging, but it is very hard for me to get out of bed most mornings.   It is was it is.

Okay, so this is Tuesday morning.  830.  Wearing my sexy jury badge.  Ready to go.  Well, I know it had to be close to 10am before we went downstairs to begin the voir dire.  I was in the first 20 to undergo the questioning.   This process made me a little uncomfortable because we were told to give our names, addresses, place of employment, job title, spouse name, spouse's place of employment and job title, number of kids, kids' place of employment and job title, etc.  Ummm...there were 40 potential jurors + 10 people involved with the case + 5 court staff = a lot of people that now know too damn much about me.   I've seen read that a lot of courts now only refer to jurors by number only for privacy reasons. 

After ten minutes or so, I realized that there was a very good chance that I would be selected for the jury.  It was a personal injury case that involved an automobile accident.  I was one of few that had no previous lawsuits, arrests, car accidents with injury...

We found out who was selected from the first group after lunch.  Ten of us.  Three more were needed.  The lucky ten had to wait in the very small jury room while the second group was being questioned.  This probably only took an hour.  We were brought back into the courtroom, one of us was dismissed, and four from the second group were added to make thirteen.  Twelve jurors plus an alternate.  

The jury consisted of ten whites; five females, five males.  And three blacks; two females, one male.   Off-hand, I remember that most were educators.  One engineer.  A paralegal.  Two, I believe, were in construction.  Most of us had attended college.  Age-wise, we probably ranged from 22-late 50s.  Average age mid-late 30s.

We took another oath.  The trial began immediately after.  

The Trial

As I said before.  This was a civil trial.  Personal Injury.  The plaintiff was suing an insurance company of a local hardware chain for damages as a result of an accident involving a company vehicle and his personal vehicle.  Luckily for us, the defendants had already accepted fault, so that was one less thing we had to decide on.  WHEW.

Day one involved opening statements and a headache and longing for Gael, my phone.

Day two, Wednesday, was supposed to get started at 830am.  That was the time the jury decided on for the trial to begin everyday.  Of course, we didn't begin until 845, but we did spend that morning ordering our lunch and eating donuts supplied by the judge. (Judge Jules Edwards, btw.)   We listened to the testimony of five witnesses that day.  The plaintiff, his internist, his orthopedic surgeon, a vocational rehabilitation specialist, and a biomechanical engineering professor.  Thank you, Judge Edwards, for the numerous breaks and opportunities to stretch.  I must admit that those last two witnesses were long-winded and boring, and the plaintiff's attorney beat many a horse to death that day.    We didn't get out until 5 o'clock.  This was the longest day we had.   

We also realized that there were two trials going on at this point.  The passenger had her own trial without a jury, so many of the witnesses were testifying twice.  That explained the long breaks after every witness.

I was soooooooo tired when I got home.  Physically and mentally spent.  

Day three started out very interestingly.  Our alternate witness had been offered a ride home by the plaintiff the previous afternoon.  The judge was alerted, and the trial went on as planned.    This was quite surprising since the judge had stated over and over since Tuesday that only he and his staff were allowed to have any sort of communication with the jury.    Oh well...

We were all antsy and just wanted everything to be over at this point.  Five witnesses this day:  the economist, after whose testimony, the plaintiffs rested their case, the defense's biomechanical expert and orthopedic surgeon, the store manager, and the passenger.  

Two of the witnesses were on the stand less than ten minutes.  (Thank you, baby Jesus.)  Unfortunately, the judge had drug court at 4pm, so we had to finish early.  The end was near, though.  The end was near.

We were all bright-eyed and bushy tailed Friday morning.  Super excited about this thing being over and getting our lives back.   Our little hearts were broken when the plaintiff's attorney's closing statement took an hour.  Even more so when the defense's took almost an hour.  Wanted to cry when the plaintiff's attorney went again.   But the absolute worst was when the judge read us the law.  That in itself took an hour.  I went to my happy place at one point.  After we were instructed on what we had to do, we had lunch and deliberated.

The Deliberation

For civil cases, you need 3/4ths of the jury's vote to reach a verdict.   Now, the judge explained the law in great detail and instructed us that legally, we were bound to only apply the evidence and testimony from the trial to reach a verdict.  No outside information, personal beliefs, nor sympathy were to be used when reaching a decision.

At least on two occasions during the trial, we were read Louisiana Civil Code Article 2315(A), which states:   
"Every act whatever of man that causes damage to another obliges him by whose fault it happened to repair it."

We were also introduced to other rules, such as the Eggshell Skull Plaintiff Rule that pretty much states that the defender must take the victim as is and is responsible for any aggravation or injury to a pre-existing condition. Also, the general rule that the treating physician's testimony carries more weight than that of a physician that only sees the patient once, especially for litigation purposes. There was one more that dealt stated that one cannot assume symptoms were resolved just because of lapses in medical treatment.

I went into deliberations with an open mind and with the law in mind.  Clearly, other people were not willing to do so.  Either a few of these people did not listen all week or they had personal objections to someone filing a personal injury lawsuit.  It was obvious that some did not listen because we had to submit a question to the judge  asking if an aggravation of a previous injury was an injury as it pertained to the case.  I don't know where they all were all week long.  It was the plaintiff's entire case.  The defense even mentioned it.   I have no idea how they missed that.  It was said several times a day for four days.  

And I thought it was clear that the victim had been injured.  Three doctors testified to that fact.  One was the damn doctor for the defense.  It took us way longer than I expected to even decide on that.   At this point, I was dreading the next step:  deciding on what to award in damages.

I cannot even express my irritation.  People have to understand, this is not your money.  Whatever you did or didn't do in similar situations has no bearing on this case.  I don't care that you had several accidents and didn't sue. I don't care that you have friends that are lawyers.  I don't care that you don't think someone can be in severe pain and go without treatment.  (I will admit that I wanted to jump across the table when people kept saying that it was impossible to do so.  It's a sensitive subject for me.)   When I heard things like "This is a frivolous lawsuit.  We shouldn't even be here,"  or  "He's a liar and not hurt at all,"  or "I'm not giving him another cent,"  or "He's not going to get the surgery if we give him the money.  They never do," I died a little on the inside.   

To be fair, I do think that some details in the case were exaggerated but three physicians testified that this man did indeed have some serious things going on with his spine that could be causing him a great deal of pain.  Both surgeons agreed that he did need surgery.  But our role was not to decide on those two things, it was to decide whether or not his previous condition was injured by the accident and for how long.  If the accident led to the injury that required surgery.  If so, then we had to decide what he should be compensated as a result.  I never let my personal feelings get in the way of me applying the law to the situation, and I'm so glad the majority of us were logical in our reaching our decision.  And instead of frowning in the corner and acting like children, we used the law and evidence to explain our position.    These people had made their minds up from day one.  I honestly waited until after the closing statements to put all the pieces together in my head.

I don't know if it was the amount of money (which was close to a million) or if these people were just incompetent when it came to things like this.  Maybe I am very analytical in my thinking.  I don't know, but like I said before, many of these people were in education.  hmph.

In the end, we awarded the plaintiff for past medical expenses.  That's it.  I agreed with that because of other inconsistencies in the case that made it impossible to award any more damages.  I was satisfied with our decision.  Deliberations took two hours.  By 230, we were out of there.  

The defense attorney and his assistant came out immediately to talk to us and ask us what made us come to our decision.   He was a very good attorney.  James P. Morris from Lake Charles.  The other attorney only came out to say thank you and goodbye.  He was a really, really bad lawyer.  Aside from the horrible grammar, punctuation, and diction, he didn't seem to understand the physics behind the case and it was painful to listen to him.  He wasn't very logical either.  A lot of the time, he was arguing about two unrelated things.  Again, painful to listen to...

All in all, it was a great experience.  I really liked the other 12 jurors, except for when a few of them were being stubborn.  lol 

Not to mention, I got this big ol check for my service which amounted to $141.  Let me tell you what really sucks about that, my previous employer paid up to two weeks of jury service every two years.  We were bought out on December 6th, and the new company only pays what they are mandated by law to pay...eight damn hours.  Oh well, I guess.  

I don't regret my experience.  Until that point, I really had no idea how the judicial process worked.  There are definitely things I appreciate never having to go through right now.   I came out a little more informed than I went in.  And that's always a good thing.

Well, thanks for reading.

-Juror #98

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