January 04, 2008

Jury duty

I've been in a jury pool twice: a federal felony case and a civil tort case. At least in Utah, you don't have to show up unless there's an actual trial (they give you a number to call the night before). That doesn't mean you'll actually serve, though.

The federal case involved drugs and weapons possession (the courtroom looked like a set from Law & Order). The judge had a sense of humor and moved things along at a brisk clip. All the peremptory challenges were done in open court. The people excluded were related to the prosecution or defense or had been involved in similar cases before (victim, witness, juror). After that, the jury was picked in order and was seated by 11 AM. The guy next to me was the last alternate. He sighed heavily.

I knew five minutes after looking at the jury questionnaire for the personal injury case that the plaintiff's lawyers weren't going to pick me. Half the questions had to do with whether I supported tort reform and how much: "Yes," and "A lot." I'd like to see the regression analysis done on that questionnaire. For example, it asked what your favorite TV shows were. The most interesting questions was, on a sliding scale: "I control events -- Events control me." Who checks the latter?

In this rinky-dink, fender-bender case (nobody even hobbled into the courtroom on crutches), following the questionnaire came five freaking hours of jury selection. The jury wasn't seated until 2 PM. Of course I wasn't chosen. (I'm free! I'm free!) I shudder to imagine what goes on in big personal injury/class action cases.

Multiply this by thousands of courtrooms across the nation, and I sat there and watched the national productivity circling the drain. I appreciate the idealism of trial-by-jury, but in actual practice it's an awfully wasteful system, and its flaws only encourage bad lawyering and dumb trials. Jurors are more like naive politicians who are handpicked and then intensely lobbied for hours and hours before voting on a bill that none of them really understands.

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