Friday, April 21, 2006

Jury Duty Concludes

My service to the state of New York in the form of my jury service ended this past Wednesday. I was officially on jury duty for nine days, and it was a fascinating experience. Not just for what went on in the courtroom, but what went on outside of it too.

On April 6th I was selected to be on a jury in New York State Civil Court in downtown Brooklyn. In civil cases there are only eight jurors (six and two alternates). As my luck would have it, I was the ONLY male selected among the eight people picked. My sister later told me that some lawyers look upon women as being more sympathetic in civil cases, and I guess she was right.

The case I was on was a car accident case, very similar to the first trial I sat on back in May 2001. I was an alternate juror on a case in State Supreme Court back then. In this case, a 32-year-old man and his female companion were driving along a street in Ft. Greene, Brooklyn at 1:30 AM on a Saturday morning in 2002 when they were passing a double-parked car that suddenly bolted and tried to make a u-turn and slammed right into them. The man went to the hospital and was discharged, not thinking he was hurt badly. But the next day, he started having back and neck pain, and he was later diagnosed as having a herniated disc in both places.

He sued the driver of the car, who was a driver for a livery cab company. But to everyone's surprise, the driver could not be located, and NO ONE from the cab company was there in court to defend themselves. The trial was a two-tiered case, first to decide liability, and then damages if we sided with the plaintiff. The plaintiff's lawyer was a really sharp guy (and a big Mets fan, as I discovered during jury selection) and the first part of the trial was no contest. I was selected as jury foreperson (foreman sounds so much better) and we found the defendants liable after a very short deliberation. During this part of the trial, I bumped into the plaintiff attorney on the luch break one day, and he said something to me about the previous night's Mets game. I said something back to him about it, but right in front of the court officer. She whispered to me I wasn't supposed to talk to him during the trial, and fortunately she let it go.

The trial was interesting to be a part of, but the really tough part in the whole thing was the down times in the jury room. On one morning we had to wait nearly two hours before the judge was ready to call us in. And I was stuck in a room with seven women! Not nearly as sexy as it may sound. Boy, these women could talk, and boy did they ever! They talked about things that I don't usually talk about with women (I leave it to your imagination to figure out that one), and on more than one occasion I heard one of them rail on about how much they hate men. Then they would look at me and say, "no offense." I would just smile and let it go. Another talked about being arrested not long before her jury duty and talked seemingly non-stop. One of them went on about some crazy 9/11 conspiracy plot, some really inane nonsense. It took all of my strength not to speak up about it, as I didn't want any fights in the jury room. But one saving grace at least was one of the women was originally from Massachusetts and was a Red Sox fan. By the last day, a female court officer said to me, "I bet your tired of all these hens." I smiled at her and said, "You said it, I didn't!"

Just after the trial started, I found a sports bar on Court Street called "Cody's Ale House Grill", and I spent most of my lunch hours there. They had NESN and was a Red Sox-friendly bar. I was there on Monday for Patriots Day and caught a few innings there. But I had to leave by the end of the top of the ninth, and missed Mark Loretta's game-winning homer.

The second part of trial was the liability part, and the plaintiffs brought out the MRIs of the injuries and the doctors who treated him. The plaintiff was a very soft-spoken man and was very credible in his testimony. The evidence was very strong, and by last Tuesday we got the case. In just over one hour of deliberation, we awarded the plaintiffs $700,000 in damages, just what they were seeking. I got up before the court as foreman and read off the findings of the jury, and I was pleased at the outcome.

After the trial I met both lawyers and the plaintiff, and they thanked us for our service. The defense lawyer asked me what swayed the jury, and I told him about the strong evidence and the failure of anyone for the defense to appear.

I will now be excluded from jury service now for a few years (I think it's three), but if I am picked again then, I pray I'm not thrown to the wolves once again.

A few men on the jury would be nice next time.

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