No Jury, No Justice

November 29, 2006

News & Commentary

An Enriching Experience That Should Not Be Passed Up

By RICHARD MEEHAN With ANDY THIBAULT
The Cool Justice Report
http://www.cooljustice.blogspot.com
Nov. 29, 2006

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column is available for reprint courtesy of The Cool Justice Report, http://cooljustice.blogspot.com

Like clockwork every two years my wife receives a notice from the judicial department directing her to appear for jury duty. If there is some record kept for the number of times being summoned to jury duty she certainly has to be approaching it.

Dutifully, once every two years she waits, excited for an opportunity to serve on a jury. Like a scene from the movie Groundhog Day, the same ending always occurs—she’s excused. Not because she wouldn’t make a great juror—in 30-plus years of marriage to a trial lawyer she has been my practice juror on everything from homicide cases to complex malpractice cases. Blessed with uncanny common sense and a finely honed sense of justice (who wouldn’t have one listening to the rants of a trial lawyer for all those years!) she has been an excellent barometer for what does or does not work in the courtroom.

So why doesn’t she get selected? The problem is simply that she is married to a trial lawyer. Our firm tries criminal and personal injury cases alike. Inevitably one of the lawyers in the case on trial or the judge knows me or fears that as the wife of a trial lawyer she would acquit every criminal defendant or award millions to every run of the mill whiplash plaintiff. Those same lawyers don’t see that she is a woman of her own mind, not intimidated by lawyers, and not afraid to take a position even if it seems antithetical to what I do for a living.

The real shame is that she has been married to the law and me for 37 years. While I attended law school she worked as a nurse while raising our two oldest sons. When she started having babies I went to work for my Dad’s law firm as a student intern. She has lived the law: the agonies of defeats and the exultation of victories as much as my Dad or I. To add to the measure our oldest son is a trial lawyer as well, and has practiced with me for the last 10 years. So the deck is stacked against her when she arrives at court.

The sad truth is that she is probably the one of the few who assemble that really wants to be part of the process. Jury service is a privilege that is the cornerstone of our system of justice. I always remind jurors that despite the extent of the education of the judge and lawyers assembled in a case it is their sole determination that controls.

We have three years of formal training and many times decades of practical training as we hone our trial skills. Yet the decision lies with ordinary people from a mixture of economic and educational backgrounds. It is this blend of diverse life experiences that makes the system work.

Unfortunately, we spend a good portion of each day of jury selection dealing with those who don’t want to take the time to serve. It is an imposition, truly; but it is a necessary one. Each of us is potentially a litigant some day. Nobody plans to be in an accident or be the victim of malpractice. No one asks to be the victim in a criminal case or unfairly accused of a crime. It is the price of a free society that members of the community need to step forward and accept the call to jury duty.

I recall the first criminal trial I sat through as a student with my Dad. At that time jurors were summoned for two weeks at a time, sometimes sitting on more that one case. He was trying a murder case and the panel of prospective jurors had been exhausted. It was a Friday afternoon and the judge was anxious to finish jury selection. He ordered the deputy to go out on to Main Street and conscript passersby into jury service!

Today people are called for one day. If they are not selected they go home, not to be called again for another two years. If selected they serve for the duration of the trial, however long it takes. Once picked most people take the task seriously. Few jurors I have spoken to have not felt enriched by the experience.

So next time that jury service notice arrives give some thought to the lady married to the lawyer who aches for a chance to be part of the process. Cherish the fact that you are the conscience of the community and without you there is no justice.

Bridgeport attorney Richard Meehan Jr. was the lead defense counsel for former Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim’s corruption trial. Meehan is certified as a criminal trial specialist by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. Meehan has also obtained multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements in complex medical and dental malpractice and personal injury litigation. He is a past president of the Greater Bridgeport Bar Association and appears regularly on Court TV.
Website, http://www.meehanlaw.com
Andy Thibault, author of Law & Justice In Everyday Life and a private investigator, is an adjunct lecturer of English and a mentor in the MFA writing program at Western Connecticut State University. Thibault also serves as a consulting editor for the literary journal Connecticut Review. Website, http://www.andythibault.com and Blog, http://cooljustice.blogspot.com

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