The Jury, Assembled ~ And Then There Were Six Part II
Monday, May 18
There’s a special holding room in the Commissioner of Juror’s building for returning, potential jurors. Upon arrival Monday morning at 9:00am, the Commissioner asked us to sign in. Close to 10:00am, a court officer escorted us out the back of one building and into the back of the other, where once again, we placed our belongings in bins and walked through the body scanner. Just like Friday, I took the stairs up to the 4th floor with a few others while the rest opted for the only elevator in the building.
The attorneys were waiting and wasting no time in the courtroom. The eight that were left in the jury box on Friday resumed their seats, while the rest of us headed back to the gallery. The next part happened so quickly; it’s a bit of blur in my memory. I don’t think we were seated for more than a few minutes when the door behind the bench closest to the jury box opened and the Judge’s assistant entered holding a piece of paper. She came into the courtroom periodically on Friday, I suspected to see how things were going. After a very brief consultation with the lawyers, she turned to the jury box and asked the eight from the box to rise and follow her and a court officer out of the courtroom.
It was stunning.
Just like that, we went from 20 potential jurors to 12 gaping and confused gallery sitters, in a New York Minute.
What just happened? I thought to myself. Where did they go?
In short order we learned that 3 of the 8 people in the box were in another room being sworn in as jurors and the other 5 were being released. That’s why we were kept waiting in the holding room for almost an hour that morning. They were choosing the three jurors, but which ones did they keep?
We didn’t find out because they were allowed to leave for the day.
We barely digested what had just happened when the male lawyer from the Plaintiffs’ team, whom I’ve ( fondly, with no disrespect intended) nicknamed, Jiminy Cricket, went to work, turned the crank and started picking names from the clear tube on the council’s table. When the name is pulled one of the attorney’s slides it onto a wooden board about 9” x 12”, through slats which are used to hold the name cards. I’m pretty sure it indicates who is sitting where in the jury box. The questionnaires are pulled from a pile and a copy is given to each side for review. My name was the 4th or 5th of a new set of 8 that were called. I took a seat in the box accordingly. Four people remained in the gallery.
I was impressed at the effort that was made by all of the attorneys to address each of us by name. They referred to our questionnaires and asked us specific questions.
From the Questionnaire ~ Question #17 reads:
What are your hobbies or recreational activities?
My Written Answer: I enjoy reading, writing and movies.
Jiminy Cricket, the Plaintiffs Attorney, to me:
It says here you like movies. What is your favorite movie?
Me, In My Head:
Oh, God! This is his question? Did he really just ask me that? I have no idea what my favorite movie is! I can’t even think right now. (Cue internal panic.)
Me, (Responding Calmly) Out Loud:
I really don’t have one favorite. I like lots of different kinds of movies. I’m a big J.K. Rowling fan, so I enjoyed the Harry Potter movies.
He smiled at me knowingly, which made me think that he really didn’t know who Harry Potter was.
Then the hardballs were thrown.
Defense Lawyer For the Doctors (Good Cop/Dad of 3) to me:
Tell me a little bit about the school you work in.
Me: It’s a small, private, progressive school in Wappingers.
Defense Lawyer For the Doctors (Good Cop/Dad of 3) to me:
There’s an admissions process and you make a lot of decisions in your job, fair statement? I nodded in agreement.
Side note: I later learned, that a nod in court is unacceptable.
You must answer every question out loud so the court reporter can record your words. Although, the court reporter is not in attendance during jury selection and jurors are not allowed to speak during the trial. Phew!
Defense Lawyer For the Doctors (Good Cop/Dad of 3) to me:
Sometimes, you have to tell people they can’t come to your school, correct?
Me: Yes. Not often but sometimes.
Defense Lawyer For the Doctors (Good Cop) to me:
It has to be a good fit, right?
Me: Yes. Exactly.
Questions were asked to all of the potential jurors and interspersed was much pontificating by all sides. For example, it was made clear to us that if we were picked we would hear “expert testimony”. Then another side made it clear that the “credibility” of “expert witnesses” would be something we would have to consider. We were told that we would likely hear a heartbreaking story that we would be asked to make a judgment on and award sums of money. Then we were told that sometimes, bad things happen to good people and it’s no one’s fault.
Finally, a fastball came.
The Viper (Defense Lawyer for the Hospital) approached the podium in front of the jury box.
Viper: Well. Let’s just get this out of the way. Some of you checked boxes on the questionnaire that we need to speak to you about.
Viper to me: Ms. Teich, can we speak with you privately?
Well, I knew this was coming; although, kudos to the Viper for cutting to the chase.
Into the hall we went. Four smiling attorneys huddled around me. The Viper noted that I’d checked off that I’d been the victim of a crime in question #14. He asked me if I could tell them about that.
Keep it simple and succinct, I thought to myself.
Sure. I said. A couple of years ago our home was repeatedly broken into over a period of about 8 months. Ultimately my husband and I setup a motion sensor camera in our living room and my husband called 911 when images of a burglar in our house were sent to his phone through email. The guy was caught coming out of our house by a State Trooper who responded to the call and it was our neighbor.
The woman attorney for the Plaintiffs put her hand to her mouth as I spoke and when I finished she said,
Oh, that is terrible.
Yes. It was terrible; although I didn’t say that. I didn’t say anything.
However, in addition to competence, maybe it was also a sense of compassion that I saw in this woman on Friday. Hers was genuine and it wouldn’t be the first time, I’d see it either.
There was a very brief pause.
Here it is I thought, the end of my line.
You are after all automatically released of jury duty if you’ve been the victim of a crime, right?
Thank you, they said. You can return to the jury box.
Question #14 also asked whether you’ve been….
· accused of a crime
· convicted of a crime
· a witness to a crime
….and if you’ve testified in court or sued someone.
More private meetings; 4 more people in the box were let go. The 4 remaining in the gallery were called in. A few more questions were asked. We were told that this would be the only time the jurors would be able to speak or interact with the lawyers. Once the trial began, we would not be able to talk to them or anyone connected to the case; not even each other, until it was time to deliberate. We were reminded that the case would take a while, possibly three weeks.
One man who had been quite vocal (although not obnoxious) during the process put his hand up and stepped outside with the attorneys. After several minutes, the lawyers came back into the courtroom without him.
“Well,” said Jiminy Cricket, “It looks like we have our jury.”
It was official. I was a juror.
And so were the other 6 people that were in the jury box with me. Something didn’t add up. Together we were seven and we’d been told that three were picked that morning. That makes 10 of us.
A civil case requires 6 jurors and 2 alternates to hear the case.
We’ve selected 4 alternates instead of 2 because of the length of this trial one of the attorneys told us.
The Jury was assembled. My recall here is a little fuzzy. I’m not sure if it was the Assistant or the Judge herself but one of them, and I’m leaning toward it being the judge, came through the door behind the bench next to the jury box and asked us to stand. We did. She administered the Juror’s Oath. We held up our right hand and pledged to act fairly and impartially and follow the law that would be explained to us.
We were instructed not to speak about the case to anyone and to come directly to the Courthouse and report to the Jury Room across the hall from the courtroom the next morning at 9:00am for Opening Statements. Opening Statements marks the start of a trial. It gives each side an opportunity to let the jury know what to expect during the trial. It’s designed to serve as a guide. It sets the stage, introduces the players and speaks to evidence that are intended to be presented. Typically, the Plaintiff goes first in a civil trial.
Coming in through the front door Tuesday morning was a little different. Three officers “manned” the entrance to the courthouse. Similar to coming over from the Commissioner of Jurors’ building (or going through security at an airport) you place your belongings in a bin and walk through the body scanner when the officer waves you in.
I’m not an elevator person. I prefer the steps. Besides, there was a bathroom on the 2nd floor. Bathroom-ing in this building seemed to be a bit of an issue. There were only two small, (public) one-person bathrooms on the 2nd floor that we knew of. I stopped there on my way up, not knowing when I would have the chance again. The lock didn’t work properly and as I was washing my hands when a woman about 15 years my senior walked in on me. Clearly embarrassed, she quickly apologized and left. Later that morning, I recognized her to be the Plaintiff’s wife.
The door to the Jury Room was open. It was a large, oblong room. Inside was an oval-shaped conference table with 9 chairs around it. There were a few additional, comfortable-looking chairs against the wall at either end of the room. As I walked in, I noticed an old-fashioned, green chalkboard that stood in its wooden frame against the wall to my immediate right. A private bathroom was in the corner to my left.
Nice! I thought. A perk.
The officer assigned our courtroom that day came in and introduced himself as Steve. He had filled two pitchers of ice water and set them on the table for us. Myself and another juror asked Steve if we could take notes during the trial. He said he would let the judge know we were wondering. Then he put a sign-in sheet on the table and asked us to sign in, in the box next to our names. All ten names were typed on the computer-generated form in what appeared to be random order. Or was it? They weren’t listed alphabetically by first or last name, nor were they in numerical order by our juror identification number. But there was definitely significance to their placement, a thought behind the order, because after we had all arrived, waited (again) for the court to be ready and were finally called into the courtroom, Steve instructed us to line up in the hallway in the order that our names appeared on the paper. By the time Steve had us line up, he had memorized all of our names. Even though Steve was not always assigned to our jury room from that point on not matter when or where he saw us, he addressed each of us by name.
When we were all in our places, he knocked on the courtroom door, opened it and announced, “Jury entering.”
Everybody in the courtroom stood and we filed into the jury box stopping in front of our seats, taking them only when the Judge told us we could be seated. I was juror number 4; fourth seat in the front row. There were five seats in each of the two rows. I sat in-between the oldest and youngest members of the jury, a college girl named Christina was Juror #5 on my left and an elderly woman named Dolores was Juror #3 seated on my right. Both of whom would become a source of inspiration to me through their decorum and demeanor throughout the trial and both of whom I became quite fond of over the next several weeks.
The judge greeted us and immediately addressed our question. She said while some judges allow notes to be taken during the trial, she did not. She felt it could become distracting and we might miss important details about the case if we were focused on writing.
Then she advised us that we would not be told who the 4 alternates were until it was time to deliberate. She said we were all needed and it was important that each of us paid close attention.
And with that, the trial began with Opening Statements…
Note: This is Part II of a multi-part posting describing the process of becoming a juror on a civil trial and the extraordinary experience that ensued. If you would like to read Part I, you can find it here.