They call it jury selection or worse voir dire.  Now, I truly believe in the American justice system. It’s not perfect and there are instances where, I believe, a jury made the wrong decision. But,  I feel juries most of the time work hard and try to make the right decision.  A jury of 12 people, I have learned, is pretty good at sniffing out the truth. They are pretty good putting their heads together and making sense of very technical information. They may not want to get picked for a jury at the beginning, but once picked generally rise to the occasion and get down to work. 

The other week, I got called for jury duty. They wanted you there at 8a.m. I got there early about 7:40. The seats where you wait are hard. Parking downtown is expensive. The $6 a day the county gives you for jury duty doe not even pay for the parking and they make you buy your own coffee. I was speaking to a judge one day and he told me roughly 80% of the people who are called to jury duty don’t even show up. 80%! That’s sad.

Anyway we waited until about 10:45 before we our names were called to line up. Roughly 48 of us were led by a bailiff to another room where he had to check all of our names to see if we were all there. Of course, one person was missing so we had to wait while he went back in the big room to find the one person who missed their named being called. Now we were a group or 48 not 47. He lined us up single file then we walked the six blocks down into the underground tunnels that led from the jury assembly area to the civil courthouse. Then we all had to go through the metal detector. Then we had to wait for the elevators to take us all upstairs to the floor where the court was located. Once we got there, he called our names, one by one, and lined us up 1-48. I was number 25. The bailiff gave us number cards to use under penalty of something real serious showed we lose or steal his laminated number cards. Who would want to steal a laminated number card? It happens all the time he said. 

Well once we were lined up we had to wait so more because the judge wasn’t ready for us so we sat down on the concrete beaches in front of the courtroom and waited so more. By then it was about 12:00 p.m. and o one, I mean no one wanted to be there. I spent the time talking with a few men and women near me. I kept the fact that I was a lawyer to myself knowing I would get questions like ” what do I say to get out of jury duty? I mean there are pages and pages on Google about how to get out of jury duty.

About 12:15 the judge called us to go into the courtroom where the lawyers on both sides gave us the big stare. We took our seats then the judge went on this long winded discussion of their court. We were all hungry and tired already from sitting around for four hours. When the judge finished they let us go to lunch. YEY!

Now, here’s what happens in jury selection. We lawyers are trained to call it Voir Dire. We are told it’s a French term that means “to speak the truth”. I looked it up. It does not mean that. It literally means “to say – to speak”.

Now, what we lawyers really want to do is stand up there and tell the potential jurors the facts of the case then ask them how they would vote on who was negligent and how much money would they give the hurt person. BUT, we can’t do that. That’s against the rules so whole industries have been created around the “science” of jury selection. There are jury consultants who get paid thousands of dollars by lawyers to help lawyers find the right people to sit on the jury. It’s called jury selection but it really should be called jury deselection.

See, each side of the lawsuit gets to ask questions to the jury panel. The jury panel is the 48 people. Out of the 48 12 are selected to be the actual jury. Each side of lawyers can get rid of 6 people for whatever reason they want. These are called a peremptory challenge. That’s a fancy legal word for I don’t want you on the jury. For the lawyer representing the injured person its usually someone who doesn’t feel money should be given to a person who has been injured through another’s fault. For the defense lawyer who is paid by the insurance company they may not want someone on the jury who has suffered the same type of injury as the person bringing the lawsuit.

Now the lawyers can ask the judge to eliminate a potential juror for what is know as “just cause”. That’s another fancy law word that means that person is just not fair or can’t follow the judge’s instruction or can’t follow the law. An example would be that a potential juror could never award money for physical pain despite what the evidence would show. Once the lawyers finish asking their questions, each side is given what is called a “strike list”. That is a list of the 48 people. The lawyers then get together with their clients and jury consultants, if they brought them and figure out which 6 people they want to keep off the jury. The lawyer literally takes a pen or marker and strikes through the names of the six people they are eliminating. That’s why it’s called a strike list.

The lawyers generally get 15 minutes to turn over their strike lists to the court clerk. Then the judge brings the lawyers back to the bench to talk about “strikes for cause”. Those are the jury panel members the lawyers try to get the judge to strike. There is no limit to the number of potential jurors the judge can strike. Sometimes the potential jurors are brought up to the judges bench and the lawyers ask them questions to later convince the judge that person can’t be fair and should be “stricken” by the judge. After that is done the judge makes the decision about who they are going to strike.

The clerk then compiles a list of all the people struck by the lawyers and the judge. Remember, we are all sitting in order 1-48 in the back of the courtroom on the wood benches. Usually if you are juror panel member number one you are on the front row on the far left hand side. Then seated next to you in #2,3,4 and so on. I was juror panel number 25 which put me in the third row on the left hand side. So, the way it works, the first 12 people beginning with juror panel number one that are not stricken, end up on the jury. So you see, it’s called jury selection but the lawyers are never really selecting anyone they are deselecting potential jurors right along with the judge.

In my case the last juror picked was juror panel member 24. I was 25. I really hope one day I do get picked to sit on a jury. With me being l lawyer, that usually means one side or the other will not want me to be on the jury so I have never have made it past the round of 48.  

I hope more people would show up for jury duty. It is a duty. But it’s a small price to pay for living in the United State of America. I also hope that one day the county decides to gives us potential jurors free coffee and maybe a better seat.

Hugh Howerton


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