Why do people hate serving on juries?

by Walter Olson on March 2, 2012

The blogosphere has been kicking around that question this week, and I add my own views at Cato at Liberty (& Alkon).

{ 20 comments }

1 spo 03.02.12 at 9:05 pm

The cop shooting the boyfriend story is appalling. Let’s hope he at least got a judgment from the jurisdiction that employed the cop. In cases like that, vigilantism doesn’t seem all that unjustified.

2 Scott 03.02.12 at 9:32 pm

Okay so what’s the solution? I’ve thought for a while that we needed expert juries for many types of cases. But the lawyers have a lock on the law so that will never happen.

Solution?

3 Bill H 03.03.12 at 1:48 am

What do you mean by expert juries, Scott? Is that a call for more grand juries that serve an amount of time regardless of case load, or for experts in a particular field, who really can seperate the wheat from the chaff? If you mean the experts in a certain field, I see your point and it’s pretty intreguing, but how would you go about putting something like that together? There are some fields where getting a jury of peers together is going to be a bit difficult.

4 Bill H 03.03.12 at 1:52 am

Addendum: I will say simply that serving on a jury is one of the very few civic duties we’re asked to perform. I don’t know about anywhere else, but San Diego has made the entire process semi-tolerable.

5 David Schwartz 03.03.12 at 3:28 am

Part of it may be being forced to disclose to the State what church they go to, which magazines they read, which political organizations they belong to, and what television shows they watch in a trial to determine how many thousands of dollars are fair compensation for a receipt that had too many digits from a credit card number on it.

6 bernies 03.03.12 at 11:55 am

If one accepts that the religion clauses (including not only Amend. I, but also Article VI) have been extended to the States, and that serving as a juror is an office, then shouldn’t a question on a jury questionnaire be an uncostitutional religious test for office?

Seems like there’s an Amend. XIII issue to, here, where parking fees in the public garage across from the courthouse exceed the juror fee.

7 Paul W Dennis 03.03.12 at 12:47 pm

Part of the problem is financial – here in Seminole County, Florida, jury pay is (or was a few years ago, when last I served) $9.00 per day and that only if you actually served – you didn’t get paid for waiting around to be called upon . If, like in my case, you work for a big company, it was no big deal because I got paid my salary anyway. If you are an hourly employee, or work for a small company you may not be paid. If you are self-employed, every day spent on jury duty means real money out of your pocket – a disaster for a trial for a trial lasting over a week.

Consequently, the self-employed try their darndest to avoid jury duty, and if forced to serve on a jury, often don’t give proper deliberation to the evidence, but merely try to get a verdict reached quickly. I’ve served on six juries (two civil) and seen this phenomenum at work.

The entrepreneuriual types are often among the brightest and best. Losing these people off a jury doesn’t bother the personal injury bar since they normally want to appeal to emotions rather than reason. For civil defendants, this is a disaster and leads to many well-meant, but unfair verdicts whic h ultimately are reversed or reduced on appeal, a very expensive process indeed

8 Scott 03.03.12 at 2:45 pm

@Bill H I mean mostly for civil cases. How’s your average citizen supposed to understand some complex patent case or understand the medical science in a drug company class action suit? How can a high school dropout sit in judgement of that?

9 LisaMarie 03.03.12 at 2:53 pm

My hometown included a loud announcement in the nastiest tone possible that being a college student who needed to go to class WAS NOT AN EXCUSE!!! Because of course, missing an indeterminate amount of class in a semester is no big deal and has no lasting repercussions. The nerve of those whiny students!

10 Bill H 03.03.12 at 11:04 pm

@Bill H I mean mostly for civil cases. How’s your average citizen supposed to understand some complex patent case or understand the medical science in a drug company class action suit? How can a high school dropout sit in judgement of that?

Whoa, easy, big fella. I said I was looking at your idea with some interest. My only thought was how do you put something like that together? I’m just a custom car electrician- I have no reference points in law for this sort of thing. I know that some cases only require 6 or 8 jurors, there are times where only a majority of jurors are needed for a judgement, and some cases have what I think is called a ‘special master’, that the judge appoints. Past that, I’m lost.

I absolutely agree with you on your point that a schlub like me will not be able to get all of the intricacies of, say, a patent case regarding nuclear medicine, or some such. But we also have a hodge-podge of 50 different (in some cases, very different) state systems. One common thread seems to be that we all get a jury of our peers. I just wanted to hear your thoughts on how you put together the jury pool for your idea, that’s all. If you don’t have any concrete thoughts, that’s OK, too. Some ideas take a while to flesh out.

Come to think of it, the word ‘peer’ does seem to have a rather loose meaning in this instance.

11 Jim Collins 03.04.12 at 2:47 pm

How about sitting in a room for 9 hours a day for 4 days, while losing pay and when you are called in, being dismissed, because you are a college graduate? Then it takes 6 weeks to get your check from the County and it doesn’t cover what you had to pay for parking.

I was required to be availible for Federal Jury duty for two weeks. It didn’t matter that the National Dart Championship matches, that I spent 2 years working on qualifying for were in Chicago during that period. I asked them to switch my times, I volunteered to be availible for four weeks, but, I was told no. So I stayed home and did what I was supposed to do. They never called me in. Three months later I broke my shoulder in an accident and no more playing darts.

These days, I think that they should draw from the unemployment rolls. No pay would be required, just let them keep drawing their benefits.

12 David Smith 03.04.12 at 10:21 pm

I can tell you exactly why people hate serving on juries – and it has nothing to do w hating lawyers or the crappy treatment.

It is 100% the “closely reasoned” cesspool the legal profession has made of what many people think is the human race’s highest achievement.

13 adam zur 03.05.12 at 5:45 am

Schopenhauer also thinks that juries are only good for English mentality and not good for Germans. He might have a point. But I think that this issue is not possible to solve on its own without looking into the larger issue of the type of John Locke government that the USA constitution was built on and the general attack on enlightenment principles from the left stating from Rousseau. I think a good approach to this problem would go far in understanding the problem in the American legal system.
personally i would not know how to approach this but i do think that the America system really was meant to work for North Atlantic European type of people.

14 Ron Miler 03.05.12 at 9:21 am

There were complicated issues of fact when this country was founded and juries were 1/10 as smart back then as people are now because education is so much greater for the masses. Still, our Founding Fathers never considered the notion of expert juries. Personally, I don’t defer to our founders on ever issue we face (George, Tom, what do you think we should do about affirmative action?) But it is interesting that the same people that treat original Constitutional intent as the word are often the same ones complaining about juries not being smart enough to figure things out.

Jim, I have to say I’m inclined to agree with the court that the National Dart Championship is not particularly compelling in light of the number of excuses judges hear in voir dire.

Paul is right that there are groups that naturally get put on or left off juries that are advantageous to one side or the other. But it cuts both ways. For example, they also limit in some jurisdictions jury pools to voters with driver’s licenses. There are a lot of people who should have a voice that don’t have a driver’s license. Those voices remaining silent are not a win for plaintiffs’ lawyers.

15 Jim Collins 03.05.12 at 10:33 am

Ron,
I never spoke to a judge, nor was I trying to duck serving. I was merely asking for a little leeway on the timing. I asked the Clerk if there was anyway to change the dates that I would be in the pool. I wouldn’t have minded so much if I had been called in to serve, but, to just be on standby and not get called, kind of ticked me off.

16 Anonymous Attorney 03.05.12 at 1:37 pm

“even though it’s educational, a potentially valuable civic contribution, a break from routine, a chance to get reading done, and so forth.”

Problem here is that the average modern American is not interested in education, civic contributions, breaks from routine or reading. We increasingly live in Mike Judge’s Idiocracy.

I can share some amusing tales from talking to jurors in New York City. I lost a civil case once on grounds that the plaintiff “seemed like a nice lady who needed money”, according the the forewoman of the jury. And I won a case becaue the plaintiff “seemed like a bitch” according to that forewoman (I had a lot of all-female juries, for some reason.) Principles of negligence and causation didn’t seem to come into it for these juries, probably because those concepts are too advanced for people who enjoy watching the Kardashians on TV or who live off welfare.

Another would-be juror announced that she didn’t like the way we did it in Queens, and that “in my country, we do this better.” Of course, it would have been terribly insensitive to suggest that she go back to “her country”, but you get the point. Asian jurors would occasionally profess no English, even to the point of not professing anything but simply remaining mute, refusing to fill out the form, etc. Of course, this isn’t good either way: they’re either faking, or they’re telling the truth and we live in a country where the much-vaunted value of “diversity” doesn’t exactly help propel the civic engines.

17 Yeaah 03.06.12 at 6:16 am

“even though it’s educational, a potentially valuable civic contribution, a break from routine, a chance to get reading done, and so forth.”

With the exception of the “valuable civic contribution”, I can get all of these better on my own terms. I can take vacancies, stay home, break the routine and read. Or whatever.

It will not be payed, but jury pay is a joke too. It will be at a time I choose, e.g. less problems for both me and my employer. It will be at a place I will choose, e.g. someplace comfortable.

18 Ron Miler 03.06.12 at 9:18 am

Increasingly live in Mike Judge’s Idiocracy? When was this? People used to race to the courthouse steps to serve on juries? These good ole days never were.

Actually, the one thing I find amazing is how seriously people who do serve on juries take it. I’ve had juries that stay until late until the night and carry over cases for days trying to get it right. The only real dog they have in fight is their desire to do the right thing.

I’m not taking away from the tales of woe above. They happen too. But I think there is not enough attention given to the really good stories that happen quietly every day.

19 MF 03.06.12 at 7:24 pm

@LisaMarie – good thing I didn’t get arrested for jury duty avoidance! Back in about 1980 I was away at college in Pittsburgh and got a notice for grand jury duty service in Cleveland (which in itself was about an hour from my home). I merely wrote a letter back to the court, telling them I was away at college and unavailable to serve. I didn’t *ask*, I *told* them I wasn’t serving. Fortunately, at least back then they didn’t pursue things further. I never heard another word.

20 Amber 03.06.12 at 11:13 pm

Serving a a jury is a hardship for a lot of people, regardless of their interest level in doing so. Non-salaried workers lose hours and overtime at work that the jury pay may not compensate for well at all. People that work in positions that are not easily replaceable may feel a greater sense of responsibility that they are badly needed where they are; than for jury service where they are interchangeable with someone else. Caretakers of children and the elderly have to make other arrangements and will lose money even if satisfactory arrangements can be found. Students, as has already been mentioned, get no sympathy with respect to missing large stretches of classroom hours and labs, and no one compensates them if they end up having to drop classes and retake them or makes sure their scholarships aren’t jeopardized. The unemployed will lose their unemployment benefits if they are not out looking for work. Then there is the fear of becoming unemployed: in states with loose employment laws, it’s difficult to prove if you are laid off for an illegal reason such as being called away for jury duty. For some people simply arranging the transportation each day is a big deal. I personally know someone who hated jury duty because pain built up in his back when sitting still too long, but it wasn’t considered a severe enough medical condition to get him out of jury duty. (He dealt with it in his day to day life by making sure he walked around at least every 20 minutes or so, ergo, he wasn’t able to show that he had a medical hardship to the satisfaction of the court.) Finally, I know salaried employees that are so stretched thin and overtasked at their job that they have not even taken vacation days in years, for fear of the disaster that would pile up on their desks.

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