Editorial: Reflections from a day of jury duty

As most citizens occasionally do, one of our Editorial Board members recently had the honor of serving on a jury.

Some observations:

• Let us underscore the word honor. Many of us view jury duty as an obligation, and that's true enough. Duty is part of the expression after all. And some of us may view it as a nuisance, something that gets in the way of our everyday lives. We may even see it as something we wish we could avoid.

But truly, when you think about it, it's an honor. It's an opportunity to ensure justice. It's a small role in the greater good, a chance to serve our community and our nation. It's not a nuisance any more than, say, parenting is. And yes, it is an honor in the same way that parenting is.

• It's fairly common knowledge that much of the success lawyers have in the courtroom is dependent on their success in selecting a jury.

In fact, the art of jury selection is a whole area of expertise. Get yourself the right jury makeup and you get yourself the verdict that you want.

Question: Why does it operate that way? Why does the court need as many as, say, 45 potential jurors (or in some cases more) in order to winnow it down to 12 acceptable ones?

After all, even after the selection process, you're not going to have a perfectly representative jury anyway, are you? We agree that you have to have a system that winnows out overt conflicts. If a potential juror had a relationship of some sort with the defense or prosecution, there'd have to be a way to keep him or her off the jury. But much beyond that, doesn't it essentially become lawyers' tricks?

Shouldn't a jury of one's peers be, as much as possible, a jury of those who show up? Wouldn't the law of averages effectively even things out?

Imperfect? No doubt. But would it be any less perfect than the selection system we use now?

• The trial our Editorial Board member got was a civil case. Actually, it was just a case of determining the damages. The merits of the case had previously been decided.

Here's the thing. While the two sides made their arguments for why the damages should be high or low, the jury was sent off to deliberate with no guidelines as to reasonableness of damages. To a large extent, it came down to picking a number out of the air. There was a surreal aspect to the jury deliberations and it's one that favors Joe Sixpack over Deep Pockets. The damage numbers, even to the conservative jurors, weren't real. It was like they were dealing in Monopoly money. There was a sense that company money is bottomless.

Shouldn't there be guidelines?

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