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A Lawyer’s Day in Court—as a Juror

I had a feeling the picks were not going to go my way this week. I’m not talking about the three fantasy football drafts I have lined up—I’m referring to the California jury summons I was responding to. I’m not sure if I actually won or lost when all was said and done but I did discover an interesting stat that I’ll get to in just a bit.

As a (formerly practicing) lawyer I got pretty excited by the jury summons in my mailbox a few weeks ago. I’d be able to return to court as a spectator. I guessed this is how former professional football players feel when they get to be a commentator or sit in the stands. I’m no professional athlete, but heading into court was like going back to the playing field—just not being allowed in the locker room.

My day started with getting to the stadium, excuse me, the courthouse, by 8:30 a.m. There was unfortunately no lineup of hot dog and fan gear vendors outside, but rather, a row of bail bondsman, bail bondsman, traffic law firm, bail bondsman, auto shop, deli, bail bondsman.

After getting through the security line with my egg sandwich and coffee (from the deli next to the bail bondsman, of course), I proceeded to check into the jury lounge and hunker down with about 250 other folks wondering if they’d be among the dozen—plus two alternates—chosen to donate their next few weeks to the state. Good thing the court played an Oscar-worthy training video on what it means to be a juror to keep us entertained (insert sarcastic tone). I mean, come on. I figured since this was California perhaps we’d get a better training video!

Nevertheless, the wait wasn’t long. I was called in with the first group of about 70. We were ushered into a courtroom where we’d spend the rest of the day. To kick off the questioning, 25 of the 70 of us were called up into seats up by the judge’s bench. I was not part of that first group.

That group got asked tons of questions about their personal life, and most importantly, about their ability to remain unbiased. I won’t share what the case was about (even though we were told) because quite frankly I’m afraid of posting something inadvertently revealing. We were strictly told not to tweet or post on facebook anything about the trial if we were selected. We all raised our rights hands while standing and swore to something. I can’t remember the words, but I’m pretty sure it was something serious and binding.

Well, next came my voir dire.

Yes, I was not called for questioning for a few hours, until about 20 others were dismissed for cause or challenged by one of the lawyers. I sat in the back of the room unable to connect with outside society through my phone.  I was fixated on the judge’s and lawyers’ questions and family and job history and ability to speak English. The room was packed with folks of all different ages, ethnicities, appearances, etc. But there was one crazy pattern that popped out: there were tons of lawyers in the jury pool.

Yes, LAWYERS in the jury box! By my estimate, just under 20 percent of all the jurors being questioned were lawyers. That’s about 60 times the regular population. This was so odd that even the judge at one point had all the lawyers raise our hands and show ourselves. One in five!

Why was that? I’m not sure. My only working theory right now is that a disproportionate amount of lawyers respond to jury summons’— of respect, fear or guilt. Other than that, I’m at a loss.

What I do know, however, is that when I told the court that I built and run a network of hundreds of lawyers who regularly handle the kind of matter in question, it did not seem to shake the judge, prosecutor or defense counsel all that much. Neither did my reference to a similar case that I advocated for years ago, or my mention that pretty much everyone in my family was at one point a prosecutor. None of that seemed to disqualify me.

In the end though, it didn’t matter. Each side ran out of peremptory challenges and a jury was selected that included three lawyers—none of whom were me. So now back to work for me and unfortunately, I’ll never know what comes of the case that I spent a day in court for. The only thing I have to look forward to now is the real world where I get to pretend to be a professional coach when I pick my three fantasy teams. Oh well.

One Comment

  1. Amazing tips! I think this information is useful to people who have their first day in the court as a lawyer!