A Vermont man, was dismissed from jury duty this month when he showed up at the courthouse jury assembly room wearing a prison-striped costume and matching beanie. After being noticed, the judge met with him privately and asked him to leave. The Vermonter, James Lowe, was only too happy to oblige.
Some jury-selection experts think being verbal, subtle and biased are good ways to avoid getting picked. And then there’s Lowe and his costume.
Not so fortunate by comparison was Henderson, Nevada lawyer Kurt Smith who spent a night in jail over his attitude. “Thanks a lot,” he said after being chosen to serve on the jury for a scheduled three-day trial. Unfortunately, it was loud enough for District Court Judge Ron Israel to hear. Judge Israel called it a breach of the peace and held him in contempt.
The judge then ordered that Smith either watch the rest of the trial from the gallery or spend a night in lockup. Smith apologized and chose the gallery instead of a night in the pokey. But when the following day Smith showed up half-an-hour late for the resumption of the trial, the judge ordered him jailed for 48 hours. He was released after serving 24 hours.
Rare indeed apparently is the lawyer unconvinced of their professional indispensability. That stuff may sell someplace else. But in one Nevada courtroom, the judge wasn’t buying it.
Many called, few chosen, and even more try to evade.
Clearly, George Bernard Shaw was wrong when he said “only lawyers and mental defectives were automatically exempt from jury duty.” Lawyers obviously get called although I can’t speak for the “mental defectives.” On the latter, some may have their suspicions.
As for myself, I’ve been called several times. Each time I was obediently poised to do my civic duty — but I was never chosen. The last time was a year ago here where a local newspaper previously headlined, “Most People Don’t Show Up For Jury Duty in Maricopa County.” Since then the local courts have cracked down on no-shows with a “get tough” policy. I can’t say how well it’s working.
Chief Justice in the Jury Box.
Earlier this year, I read “A Justice on the Jury” in the Nevada State Bar’s, Nevada Lawyer. It was Nevada Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Gibbons’ first person account of being called and picked for jury service. According to court records, it was the first time a Nevada Supreme Court Justice had ever been seated as a juror in a jury trial in the state. Judge Gibbons served during a criminal trial in Carson City.
He related how “waiting outside the courtroom, a newspaper reporter joked with me that I would probably be the first juror excused. To my great surprise, I was seated as juror number five, when the court resumed proceedings.” I don’t think he should have been surprised, though. After all, when you have the chief justice of the state supreme court in your jury pool, a lawyer is going to be hard-pressed to strike him with a peremptory challenge.
And while he was gracious about how the proceedings were conducted, telling the judge afterward that he agreed with all of his rulings on objections during the trial, he nonetheless wasn’t shy about offering helpful tips and procedural improvement prescriptions for trial judges. These included creating “a checklist of all mandatory jury instructions that need to be submitted to the jury” and giving “special emphasis” to the juror admonishment instruction prohibiting independent research. Additionally, before commencement of deliberations, he would require jurors to re-read the jury instructions. And during the opening charge, he says he would acquaint the jury on basic courtroom procedures, including the use of expert witnesses and hypothetical questions.
So much for all those overly busy indispensables, including lawyers, if the chief justice can serve, well . . . .
Photo credits: “The Jury by John Morgan” painted by John Morgan, uploaded to Wikipedia by Swampyank – The Jury by John Morgan.jpg. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Jury_by_John_Morgan.jpg#/media/File:The_Jury_by_John_Morgan.jpg; “Bad Dog!” by Pets Adviser at Flickr Creative Commons Attibution; “Jury Duty” by Steve Bott at Wikipedia via Creative Commons Attribution License.