Wednesday, April 15, 2015

JURY DUTY

My daughter-in-law got called for jury duty last week but didn't get to serve. She said that it had something to do with the fact that I was her father-in-law. Apparently the prosecutor was perfectly content to have her serve, but the defense attorney didn't want her.

This incident reminded me of a similar incident many years ago. My wife Lane got a summons for jury duty. She told me about it as I walked in the door after a long day in court.

“I don’t want to serve on a jury,” she said.

“No problem,” I replied, “just call the judge’s office and explain your situation and they’ll let you off.”

Lane didn’t like that idea. “I don’t want to be given any special favors.”

“You won’t be. You’re pregnant, and pregnant women can be excused from jury duty if they ask”

“I’m not going to call the judge’s office.”

“Okay,” I said, “When you show up for jury duty they’ll ask you a bunch of questions, and the last one will be whether you have any reason to be excused from jury duty. Just go up to the judge’s bench and tell him you’re pregnant.”

“I don’t want to call attention to myself,” she said.

“You’re eight months pregnant. People are going to notice whether you call attention to yourself or not.” She was adamant that she wasn’t going to call attention to herself by asking to be excused. “Okay,” I said, “You probably  won’t be called into the box, and if you are the prosecutor will certainly challenge you.”

On the morning of Lane’s jury duty I was sitting as second chair counsel for the case that was set for trial. We had a newly hired assistant public defender, and I was showing him the ropes. You might ask how I, with less than a year’s experience, was showing anybody the ropes, but at that time I was the most experienced assistant public defender in my home town.

The judge asked the preliminary qualifying questions and then asked the style of the case set for trial. The prosecutor announced my client’s name, and we proceeded to jury selection. You’ll never guess whose name was the first one pulled out of the hat.
 
As Lane was walking to the jury box, my co-counsel asked me “What should I do about your wife?” I assured him that there was no need worrying about that issue, the prosecutor would never let her sit on the case. When the prosecutor finished his voir dire examination, he accepted the jury without exercising a challenge. My co-counsel asked me what he should do. I told him that I couldn’t advise him on that issue, he’d have to ask another public defender who was in court that day.

He walked over, conferred with the other public defender, and then announced that he was going to accept the jury without exercising any challenges. We were through with the trial by mid-afternoon, and our client was on his way to jail, having been convicted as charged of battery.  I asked the prosecutor why in heaven’s name did he allow my wife to sit on the jury. “I knew she’d never have another chance to sit as a juror, so I kept her.” I then asked the same question of the public defender who had given my co-counsel such bad advice. He said: “I knew she’d never have another chance to sit as a juror, so I told him to keep her.”
 
When I got home that afternoon, I sat Lane down and said “Tell me everything that went on in the jury deliberations.”
 
It seems that the first thing they did was try to elect her foreman because she was married to a lawyer, but she declined the honor. After electing another person foreman, they spent the next 10-15 minutes trying to figure out which lawyer was the prosecutor and which was the defense attorney. After she helped them sort out that thorny question, they were ready to deliberate. One juror announced, “When y’all get it figured out, let me know and I'll vote whichever way you want me to.” The five remaining jurors then began to discuss the case. They were just before acquitting my client because his victim hadn’t been invited to the party when Lane spoke up. “Whether he was invited to the party or not, that doesn’t give the defendant a right to beat him up.” She single-handedly talked the other four jurors into voting guilty. The non-participant said he’d vote guilty, too, and the case was over.
I’m not certain of this, but I’d be willing to bet that I have the distinction of being the only lawyer in America today who had his wife on the jury of a case he defended AND whose wife talked the jury into convicting his client.