After years of thinking I was immune (it’s been 12 years), I was summoned to jury duty this week. As soon as friends and family hear you’ve been summoned, they want to tell you their stories about their experiences with jury duty. Stories ranged from irritation after waiting for an entire day to enjoyable experiences after being selected to serve on a jury. It was endearing to hear how the people who get to serve on a jury still remember the details of the cases they sat in on and how they now have a greater appreciation for the legal process. It’s also fun to hear the people who love to Monday-morning-quarterback lawyers explain how their jury duty experience gave them the perfect chance to do just that.
While I love to hear how people have a better understanding of my profession after serving on a jury, my guilty pleasure is hearing about was the crazy things people say to get out of serving on a jury. Some stories were humorous, such as the time a woman was adamant she could not serve because it would interfere with her plastic surgery. But others were upsetting. One story that particularly bothered me involved a lawyer who had been summoned to serve on a jury. It was toward the end of jury selection, and the judge asked the panel if anyone had anything they wanted to say before the final jury members were selected. The juror-lawyer raised his hand, and said, “I’ve never represented an innocent person so I can’t be impartial.” He was, obviously, immediately dismissed, but not before helping to perpetuate the stereotype of selfish, tone-deaf, bad lawyers (and, frankly, bad people).
As lawyers, we ask and cajole potential jurors—eventually forcing some people—to serve on juries. It is only fair that when it is our turn, we do everything possible to be available to serve. If we, who understand the system better than others, try to escape through the dirty tricks we know, how can we expect people to have confidence in our profession? And what kind of example do we set if we just phone-in our civic duty?
Sadly, there are plenty of lawyers out there who do not live up to the ideals of the profession. I met with someone this week who was selling a service to law firms. He asked what kind of cases I take, and was surprised when he heard that legal malpractice cases were on the list because most lawyers won’t take that type of case. Escaping jury duty isn’t legal malpractice, but it exemplifies the problem of lawyers who believe they are above the law, and the need for other lawyers to keep them in check.
At the end of the day, I wasn’t selected for a jury (they had too many people report, so I wasn’t even called to a jury panel). But, after hearing about the great lengths and lies some people go to trying to get out of serving, I decided I wanted to write a thank you to those who serve on juries. Most lawyers, and every judge I know, understand and appreciate your sacrifice. It is more important and appreciated than the little certificate you get at the end of jury duty can signify. The only cases that actually get presented to a jury involve difficult questions for the jury to resolve (if it’s easy, the case settles before trial). And so, I want to express my gratitude to the people who serve as jurors. You are the ones who make the system work.
By: Craig Valentine