I was called for jury duty this past week in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and served on the jury of a brief civil trial featuring a pro se Plaintiff and a lawnmower dispute. Years ago, I had tried an employment case before the same Judge. The experience was fascinating. Here is what I learned (or had reinforced for myself):
- The jurors wanted to fill in the missing pieces. Documents, witnesses, arguments. They wanted to see a defense, regardless of the burden of proof resting with Plaintiff. Jurors speculated why certain facts were not presented. If the juror liked and trusted the party, he or she assumed that the party had a valid, strategic reason for not presented the evidence. If the juror disliked the party, the juror assumed the party was hiding something.
- Lawyers are expected to be organized and ready, and jurors really do hold it against you if you are not.
- Not surprisingly, Jurors do not like when you are rude or aggressive with a witness who doesn’t deserve it. They don’t like it when you interrupt the witness or the judge. You lose trust quickly if you behave badly.
- Parties’ attitudes, gestures and facial expressions are well observed, especially when they are not on the witness stand.
- Jurors expect businesses to treat customers fairly.
- Jurors really want to understand and apply the law.
- Juries try to find a win-win. They talk about court costs; they speculate on damages; they want to “split the baby.”
- It’s hard for jurors to remember all the facts and evidence presented. They are understandably preoccupied with everything other than your case: their jobs and family commitments, lunch, when the next bathroom break will be. A good lawyer should use closing to help jurors to recall the key facts and to arm the jurors who will be arguing for your side during deliberations.
- If the jury is taking a long time, it may not have to do much with deliberations. Many of them are thinking about having to go back to work, or having to go back the general jury assembly, and don’t mind hanging around for a while longer with the new friends they’ve bonded with.
- T.V. comes up a lot in the jury room. CSI, Law and Order, the Good Wife. Jurors get that it’s not supposed to be like T.V., but it is a common reference point.
Actually, maybe I learned eleven things. Lastly: You don’t need a law degree to try a case well. I will remember that when litigating with pro se litigants.