Opening Statements on Tuesday took the entire day. The Plaintiffs’ attorney spoke first on behalf of his clients, a man and his wife. The couple had five children and had been married for nearly 40-years. Basically, the attorney outlined their case, telling us a tragic story about how a seemingly healthy, happy, successful man in his late 50s went to the hospital on a cold winter’s day in January six years ago with chest pain. The man was given an electrocardiogram (EKG) an essential, initial evaluation of a patient suspected to have heart problems. It’s a non-invasive procedure whereby 12 small, sticky electrodes are placed on various parts of your chest. The electrodes monitor the electrical activity of your heart and transfer the information to an EKG machine which prints the heart’s activity out in wavy lines on special graph paper. After having the EKG, it was determined that the man should be transferred to a local hospital that had a Catheritization-Laboratory (Cath-Lab). This is a special room that has diagnostic equipment that allows a doctor to view and treat arteries of the heart.
In the Cath-Lab, a stent (small expandable metal tube) was placed in the man’s left anterior descending artery otherwise known as the widow maker. A stent holds the artery open while allowing blood to flow freely. Unfortunately, the stenting process resulted in a jailed artery. This happens when plaque is inadvertently moved by the stent or metal from the newly placed stent blocks a side artery or branch during the procedure. The heart surgeon attempted to re-open the side branch unsuccessfully and to avoid further risk to the patient, made the decision to close off or jail the side artery. The Plaintiff was sent to the Cardio-Thoracic Step Down Unit (a recovery floor that is one step below an intensive care unit and one step above a general surgery unit). Here, the attorney alleged, due to negligent care, the man suffered a third heart attack, resulting in subsequent operations and procedures including having to wear a heart vest (much like a wearable defibrillator), having a Dor procedure, having a battery operated left ventricular assist device (LVAD) implanted under his skin and ultimately a heart transplant followed by several open heart surgeries because due to infection. Needless to say the man’s ability to work and function as a husband and father was changed for the rest of his life.
So began the trial and a journey among strangers that would ask us to settle what we would deem a perfect storm. What happens when a group of people spend the majority of their waking hours together, often confined to a room for long periods of time, every day for what would turn out to be several weeks in a row, each being exposed to the same experience yet undoubtedly processing it differently? You get to know people in a way that you don’t get to know even your co-workers whom you might see daily when you are in a situation like this. All of the superficial, ritual fluff that comes with the process of getting to know someone is immediately shed exposing the core of them, their struggles and strengths, their values and beliefs rather quickly. There’s no time or space for anything less.
Life is a series of stories and each of us has our own to tell.
Juror #1, Gloria
First on the daily sign in sheet, first on line to enter the courtroom, Gloria sat in the first row, first seat closest to the witness stand in the jury box. A retired caretaker in a rehabilitation center, she’s a woman in her 60s, of medium height with short, silvery hair parted to the side and curled around the edges. She’s a smoker with a slightly weathered exterior. Gloria was a solid woman; very smart and of humble beginnings who had mothered four children who were now grown. She had a terrible condition that often caused her to cough uncontrollably at random times during court, causing the Judge to sometimes pause the proceedings and offer her water, to which she said, “only made it worse.” After about two weeks into the trial, a witness, who was a nurse, tried to offer her assistance from the witness stand. The judge gently admonished the witness. No communication of any kind is allowed with the jury, at any time. Gloria was relieved as a juror shortly after that. I was never sure if it was because of her condition, the interaction with the witness or both but she told us she was glad to leave, saying she didn’t think she would have been able to make a decision in the end. I was sad to see her go.
Juror #2, John
John is 60. Second in line, second seat in the jury box. A white-haired retired detective who also flew helicopters for the police department and coast guard in earlier days. Nowadays, he flies for a private company that services very wealthy people and celebrities including Bon Jovi, Jerry Seinfeld and President Clinton. After the first day or two, John suggested we go around the jury room and tell everyone a little bit about ourselves. It was the starting point of getting to know one another in a meaningful way. His presence had a stabilizing effect on the dynamic of our group. John’s story like so many others includes a tragic, heartbreaking event. We learned that he lost his 17-year old son in a fatal car crash. Ironically, as I learned about John’s son, my own 16-year old son was taking his road test for his driver’s license. I couldn’t bear to think about John’s loss and I truly marveled at his pleasant demeanor and even-temperament. John came to the jury room with a new joke every day.
A cat and mouse went to heaven. When up there, the mouse met up with St. Peter who asked the cat what he thought of heaven. “I like it lot,” he said. “Although, it’s just very big and hard to get around sometimes. If I had a pair of roller skates, that would helpful.” St. Peter quickly granted his request, and off the mouse went. A few days later St. Peter bumped into the cat. “How are you finding heaven?” he asked the cat. “Well, at first I thought it was, eh, okay,” the cat said, “but when I realized you had a Meals on Wheels program, I thought it was great!”
Juror #3, Dolores
I can’t explain why but from day 1, I felt very connected and drawn to Dolores. She is a very attractive African American woman in her late 70s. Her facial features are pointed, small and clearly defined. She wore just enough rouge to highlight her petite cheekbones and smooth, glowing brown skin. A tall, thin woman, her hair is the color of a cultured pearl, arranged in soft, short, dangling cornrow braids that cover her whole head although don’t fall too far below her ears. It was so beautiful. I wanted to ask her if she did her hair herself but Delores is a private, proud person and I didn’t want to be intrusive. She kept many of her opinions to herself except when it came to voicing her opinions on politics. She has strong views, as most of us do. The mother of three children, two boys and a girl, one of her sons was killed in a motorcycle accident when he was in his twenties. Dolores’ husband suffered a stroke and she was his caretaker for 28 years before he passed. She worked for Planned Parenthood for over 30 years and was now retired. There is a quiet, self –assured-ness about Dolores that exudes wisdom. I saw a rock-solid, inner strength in her and an inner peace that I aspire to have one day.
I was Juror #4
Fourth in line, fourth seat in the first row of the jury box. Although I was not seated in the middle of the jury box, I was seated in the middle of “the well”, the space between the Judge’s bench and the attorneys’ tables. The podium used by the Defense attorneys stood right in front of me. The court reporter sat slightly to my right in front of the Judge’s bench. I could read on her laptop screen what she typed on her stenotype machine. I had a perfect view of the courtroom. I felt honored to be a part of this process and recognized that so many other things, so much bigger than what I could see around me at the time, were happening.
Christina was the fifth and last person seated in the first row of the jury box. She is twenty-one and goes to college in Tennessee. She studies Intercultural Studies and Business for Non-Profits. Home for the summer, she’s the oldest of three siblings and the youngest among the jurors. She was also, the most quiet. Although when she spoke, she was articulate and thoughtful with her words. It was clear she had been paying attention to every word that was said around her. Like myself, she brought a book every day. Occasionally we would read during down time. She started and finished The Hobbit during our time in the jury room. I started and finished Legend, the first in a series of three books written by Marie Lu and recommended by my daughter. Christina radiates the promise of youth. Her presence was like a breath of fresh air. She’s genuine, sweet and honest and I have a feeling she will do great things in life.
Jurors #1 through #5 sat in the first of two rows. Jurors #6 through #10 sat in a raised row behind the first row.
Juror #6, Debbie
Debbie was the sixth person in line and the first person to sit in the second row of the jury box behind Gloria. She does not like to be called Deborah and I felt bad, having made the mistake a few times before I was able to catch myself. In grammar school, catholic school, the nuns called her De-bor-ah and she hated that. Debbie wore a string of pearls with each outfit, everyday. She emits professionalism. Until of course she laughs, which she does a lot, then, she’s just a regular gal like the rest of us. An IBM Executive, IT Project Manager, Debbie oversees 29 people in her division. None of who live in the United States. In fact, she’d just received her new crew the Friday we were called to jury duty. She tried to make a case when she was chosen as a juror to be excused but the lawyers would not want to let her go. Debbie was usually the first to arrive every morning. She, like the rest of us often felt frustrated by the amount of idle time we had to pass. She had lots of ideas about efficiency. It’s no wonder she has the job she does, we half expected her to send the Judge a report at the end of the trial on what she should or could do to improve juror conditions and move a case along faster. Debbie is going to win the lottery. She told us so. In fact, she told us every day, three times a day. It’s part of her mantra to make it happen and one day, it will happen. Divorced with two grown children, it was Debbie that I felt I had the most in common with. I could relate to where some of her struggles have brought her too. She’s a competent, capable woman, deeply influenced by strong moral beliefs and I have much respect for her. Debbie has a big, beautiful heart and I’m honored to call her my friend.
As a means of helping us pass time in the jury room, Debbie brought in Table Topics, a game that uses a series of cards to ask engaging questions that inspire conversation. She would pick a card, read the question and we would go around the room and answer or not answer it, if we didn’t want to.
Some of the questions and answers that linger in my memory:
Who has inspired or acted as a mentor to you?
Juror #3 Dolores: Maya Angelou and Mahatma Gandhi.
What is your astrological sign?
Juror #2, John: Aquarius
Juror #5, Christina: Capricorn
Juror #6, Debbie: Virgo
Juror #9, Joe: Taurus
What is a goal you have?
Juror #5, Christina: to write a book.
What is the most important quality you look for in a friend?
The majority of us had the same answer, integrity and honesty.
Describe a life experience that has helped make you a stronger person.
This is the question that exposed of core of many of us.
Juror #7, Michelle
Michelle was seventh in line and sat in the second seat in the second row of the jury box. From day one, we each claimed a seat around the conference table in the jury room and kept it, except for Michelle. Michelle chose not to sit at the table. Usually she sat closest to the door in one of the chairs that lined the wall but she never sat at the table with us during the trial. She also stood a lot in the room during breaks. Many of us did. After sitting for hours at a time in the courtroom, standing was a welcome relief. A single woman in her mid-forties, Michelle is tall and athletic, caring and sensitive. She teaches Social Studies and English to 6th graders in a nearby public school. During the summer months she works in a pro shop at a golf course. It’s evident that she loves her jobs and her Irish heritage. When she speaks about her mom who (just like my mom) is an immigrant from Ireland, she can’t help but talk in a perfect Irish brogue. It’s endearing, as is Michelle.
Michelle has dual citizenship in the US and Ireland. She’s guided by her deeply rooted, Irish-Catholic beliefs and is a Pioneer, an Irish person who made a promise at her confirmation not to take a drink. Ever. At 44, she has never had alcohol. I never knew what a Pioneer was until Michelle told me. After the trial, when I asked my mom about it she said, “Oh yeah, your grandmother was a Pioneer as well”. This was news to me. My mom was actually in possession of my grandmother’s Pioneer Pin and gave it to me after I asked her about it. When I was seven I went to Ireland with my mom and younger brother. That was the only time I’d ever met my grandmother. She gave me a Claddagh ring, a traditional Irish ring representing love, loyalty and friendship. The ring was eventually stolen, so to have her Pioneer Pin now was extremely sentimental and meaningful to me, and I have Michelle to thank for that.
Juror #8, Cameron
Cameron was the eighth person in line. She sat behind me in the jury box. I liked Cameron a lot. She’s a soft-spoken, level headed, kind, woman; a college counselor at a local private high school. Cameron is a thinker. A week into the trial, she received word that her father-in-law who was in Hospice care was near the end and requested to be excused. Her request was granted.
Within the first two weeks our Jury of 10 had become a Jury of 8. Now only two of us would be alternates.
Juror #9, Joe
Joe is the fourth person to sit in the second row. He’s a middle-aged, bald man in his early 50s who works at Home Depot. Every day he wore either a navy blue Ralph Lauren baseball cap with yellow stitching or a black Tommy Hilfiger cap. You’re not allowed to wear a cap in the courtroom so he’d leave his in the jury room. He also had an earring hole in his left ear but never wore an earring. Joe’s a friendly guy. He’s not married and has no kids but lives with his partner. He likes to cook. He usually came in with a cup of coffee in the morning and like many of us, brought one back after the lunch hour. Joe played solitaire with Julie (Juror #10) every day. On the last day of the trial when Closing Statements were made, he finally won. Joe’s a deep thinker. You could tell he gave careful consideration to his answers when we played Table Topics. He took being a juror seriously. We all did. In fact, we all talked about the responsibility that came with being a juror and how important that was.
Juror #10, Julie
Julie is a woman also in her 50s. Her brownish hair has an eggplant colored hue to it. She works at JC Penney and has two grown children who live in another state that she doesn’t get to see much. She’s also a smoker. I would see her and Juror #1, Gloria (before she left) sitting outside having a smoke at lunch when I’d go across the street to get a cup of coffee from Dunkin Donuts. It’s been close to 14 years since I’ve had a cigarette and sometimes I enjoy a second hand waft. Sometimes during a break, Julie would head downstairs for a quick smoke. Because the door was locked from the outside, anyone entering the jury room other than the court officer who had a key, would have to knock. Michelle who was usually closest to the door would answer but not before jokingly asking for the “password” which was Helicopter and a nod to John’s profession.
Julie has common sense and some street smarts behind her. There is something quite compelling about her. She described a difficult childhood to us and I wondered how her life may have differed if she had more opportunity growing up. Julie works at JC Penney and brought us all coupons one day. She also shared an interesting story with us about James Cash Penney, the founder of JC Penney, who hated Franklin D Roosevelt and his policies so much that he refused to carry dimes in the cash registers in the stores because they are imprinted with Roosevelt’s picture. The only dimes in the cash register at a JC Penney (to this day) are those circulated by customers. The stores never order them from the bank.
These were the ten of us, who became eight within the first two weeks. Two of us were alternates yet we had no idea who. As the days and weeks began to pass this would loom above each us. Who would ultimately stay and deliberate? Who would not? How and when would we know? While the process of selection fascinated me, who we were individually was equally if not more intriguing.
It didn’t take long for me to realize there was nothing arbitrary about who had been chosen for this specific case. As different as we learned we were, together we were a balance and there was (thankfully) a very strong, common trait that we all shared, one that presented itself loudly and clearly:
Each of us had a deep desire to do the right thing.
Note: If you would like to read And Then There Were Six Part I, you can find it here.
Part II, The Jury Assembled can be read here.
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.