Jury Duty: September 2017

In January, I got a jury duty questionnaire in the mail and filled it out, dreading when I would get called but hoping to get it over with quickly. I got the jury duty summons for the county courthouse in August, and my service was to begin on 9/11. My number was A053, so my husband Mark correctly predicted that I would have to report to the courthouse on the first day. I watched the video about the importance of serving jury duty, and turned in my summons to be officially entered into the jury pool. I was about the 4th person called for a jury selection group, and as luck would have it, I was the 1st in that group of 25 to be put into the actual questioning group. So I knew I would be put on a case. As I told my mother-in-law when she started telling me what to say to get out of it: I’m not gonna lie to get out of it. Either I’ll be put on a jury or I won’t.

Let me back up a minute. The first (and only) time I was called for jury duty before this, I knew I was going to be rejected. I was a newlywed and the summons was in my maiden name, and I didn’t see anywhere to correct it. So when called to be part of a group for jury questioning on a criminal case, I waited patiently for the judge to read and spell my name for the attorneys, as she had done for every prior potential juror. Then I said, loudly and clearly enough for the judge and attorneys to hear, “Actually, I recently got married. My new last name is…” and I said and spelled it for them. No way were they going to accept a juror who spoke out of turn in the courtroom, despite the fact that I was just trying to do the right thing.

This time I didn’t have a built-in excuse, but more importantly, I wasn’t in the mood to be turned down only to possibly go through questioning again for a different case. So I listened to the attorneys as they said it was a medical malpractice trial, and gave a few facts about the case, and asked if we had prejudices that would be hard to overcome. I’m emotional and sympathetic, but I’m also very logical, so I knew that I wouldn’t have a problem being impartial. I wasn’t surprised at all when I was accepted as a juror.

Put on a trial for a civil case expected to last 6 days. They said to come back at 9:15am because the trial wouldn’t be starting yesterday afternoon, so I guess we’ll soon be told if it starts today or not.
I know I’m not allowed to talk about the case before and during the trial, but what about after? Anyone know if I can talk about it after it’s all over?
This is gonna be hard. I can’t keep a secret if my life depended on it. Maybe I should have told the lawyers that… lol
-My Facebook status on Tuesday evening, September 12

The trial began on Tuesday, and the judge said that after the trial we could speak about it as much or as little as we want. After opening arguments, the plaintiff’s attorney called the defendant, a surgeon, to the stand. He went chronologically through the events before and after the surgery at the heart of this trial. Throughout the trial, I liked the plaintiff’s attorney and based on that and my sympathy for the plaintiff, I thought I was going to side with them. The doctor seemed ill-prepared for the trial, and this reinforced my personal feelings. The cross-examination by the defense attorney was mainly aimed at getting the doctor to explain what was done, and to point out and explain the plaintiff’s foot x-rays before and after surgery, as compared to a diagram of a “normal” foot. It was rather boring, but critical to the jurors’ understanding of everything else that we would hear.

Done for the day. At the risk of saying too much, I now know more than I ever thought I would about the bones in the foot!!!
-My Facebook status on Tuesday evening, September 12

On my way to the courthouse again. Trying to explain to Char that just like sometimes she does something wrong and gets a time out, that sometimes grownups do something wrong and need to be punished too. And I said that I need to go to the courthouse and help decide if a grownup did something wrong and needs to be punished for it.
-My Facebook status on Wednesday morning, September 13

The next day we heard “expert” testimony from a witness for the plaintiff. I don’t know how the attorney found him, but he didn’t seem like an expert at all. The defense attorney did an excellent job discrediting him.

Out of court 2:15 today, and Friday is expected to be an early day as well.
-My Facebook status on Wednesday morning, September 13

Thursday we had a day off, and I had to go to work. It was weird to be back, and hard not to talk about the case. Friday the plaintiff’s attorney finished by calling the plaintiff’s mother, and then the plaintiff (who was a minor at the time of the surgery in question) to the stand. I was surprised that the plaintiff’s attorney rested after this, as I didn’t feel like there was enough evidence to prove his claims. I wondered if he would somehow turn things around on cross-examination of the defense’s witnesses. At some point on Friday one juror mentioned apple picking, which I thought was an excellent idea. So on Sunday I took my daughter Charlotte apple picking with my dad and sister.

The defense attorney called the doctor back to the witness stand for further questions on Monday. The primary focus was to give a more detailed analysis of the doctor’s curriculum vitae, and to go through surgical notes line by line. Again, pretty boring but important so that the jury would understand things, especially if we decided to look at the doctor’s records during deliberations. The defense questioned his own expert witness on Tuesday. The plaintiff’s attorney asked very few questions of these doctors on cross-examination. I was very surprised that he didn’t have more to ask, especially when it didn’t seem like his questions helped his case in any way. I guess he felt he had already adequately made his point.

Short day at court today – done about 11:40. I had to check at work to see if I would have to work the rest of the day, but was officially given permission to go home. On the train now, yay! Definitely making apple pie with Charlotte today, we’ve been talking about it since Saturday.
-My Facebook status on Tuesday night, September 19

Closing arguments today, and starting deliberations. Hoping everyone agrees quickly so I don’t have to come back tomorrow.
-My Facebook status on Wednesday morning, September 20

On Wednesday morning we heard closing arguments, and that afternoon the deliberations began. I have to say, we had a really good jury. And by that, I mean that all 6 jury members were active participants in the deliberations. We all paid attention during the trial, and we wanted to make sure that we had all the information we needed to come to a verdict. We asked to see some of the evidence for a closer look. We asked for part of the testimony to be read back to us by the court reporter. And ultimately, we needed to sleep on it and come back fresh on Thursday morning for more deliberations. Even though I originally wanted to finish deliberations quickly, I was glad we decided not to rush through just to be done with jury duty.

Deliberations began today, and we will continue tomorrow. Interesting process.
-My Facebook status on Wednesday afternoon, September 20

It’s not like on TV and movies where the jury simply decides guilty or not guilty. Instead, we had a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style questionnaire. We answered the first question fairly quickly on Wednesday with a unanimous decision that the doctor did not deviate from standards of practice. With this answer, we skipped question two (which was dependent on a “yes” answer to question one) and moved on to question three.

When we left off on Wednesday, we had done a preliminary vote to see where people stood on the question of whether or not the doctor had given “appropriate information” before obtaining consent for the surgery from the family. I think it was 3-3, and while I didn’t side 100% with the doctor, I also wasn’t 100% for the plaintiff either. I wasn’t sure at all. I needed to think it over.

By the time I returned the next morning, after reconsidering the testimony from the mother that we had heard read back to us Wednesday afternoon, I had decided without question that I was on the doctor’s side. We started deliberations Thursday with another vote, as suggested by one juror to see where we stood now. It was 3-3, as he had changed his mind and was undecided. He suggested that just the three jurors who were unsure should start talking about what they are thinking. Before we continued, I made what I feel was an excellent point – I asked the jurors who were not 100% for the defendant where do you fall? Are you 100% the other way, or are you somewhere in the middle? They were pretty much 90% for the doctor, they just had some nagging doubts. That makes a big difference – instead of trying to convince someone who thinks the opposite of you, we just had to talk through the questions and doubts they had.

We asked to see another piece of evidence that had been referred to but not enlarged for us to see, as some of the other evidence had been. One of the undecided jurors looked at this evidence and realized that it showed another side to the story that hadn’t been fully shown to us in the proceedings. One juror said that he had basically thrown out the mom’s testimony when she said she didn’t know what was going to be done, and when pressed on the matter she said that she didn’t ask the doctor to clarify because, “he was the doctor, he was the expert – we trusted him.” I pointed out that both expert witnesses said this doctor’s notes were more complete and clear than most notes they’ve seen for cases, and both have reviewed several dozens of other charts for medical malpractice cases in the past. I said that if this is true, I don’t believe for a second that he was any less thorough in his clinical appointments with the patient and his family. And if they don’t understand but they tell him they do, that’s not his fault for not explaining further – the family should have told him they don’t understand.

Ultimately, we all agreed that there was no proof that the doctor didn’t give appropriate information. We only needed a 5/6 agreement for any given question, and it didn’t have to be the same 5 for each, but we had two unanimous decisions. And with that, we were done. Had we decided the doctor didn’t give them full information, then we would have had to decide if the patient is due damages, and if so then how much. But it didn’t come to that. We felt bad for the family, but ultimately it came down to a few facts.

  1. Just because a surgery has less than desirable results, it doesn’t mean the doctor did anything wrong.
  2. It’s the plaintiff’s attorney’s job to prove their side of the story with evidence.

We the jury did not find sufficient evidence to prove what the plaintiff claimed, therefore we could not find in his favor.

Typically, the judge said, the first juror (me) is foreman. But we could choose someone else if we wanted to. However, when deliberations were about to begin on Wednesday, the court officer told us that the foreman would have to write and sign any jury notes to the judge asking for evidence, for testimony to be read back, and to fill out the verdict sheet. So he suggested we pick the person with the best handwriting, and my hand shot up. I couldn’t help it, people always compliment my handwriting. Plus, I don’t mind public speaking (I’m used to doing storytimes every week at the library), and I’m not scared of the losing side – I don’t care what they think of me, they don’t know who I am and can’t do anything to me. So yes, I was the foreman.

It was kind of a rush to be able to stand and speak in the courtroom to deliver the verdict. The one thing I was nervous about was that I have no poker face, and I didn’t want to let out a nervous laugh when the judge was reading the questions on the verdict sheet for me to answer. I actually bit down on my tongue a little bit so that I wouldn’t smile! And then before I knew it, the judge was thanking us for our service and excusing us.

So after getting our paperwork to show our jobs (and the court, if we’re accidentally called again too soon) that we served, and that we are exempt from federal court for 4 years and from local court for 6 years, we started to leave and the plaintiff’s attorney came to talk to us. He started off by repeating what we had been told before, that it’s our decision to talk about the case or not. He had some questions to help him in the future, and wanted to pick our brains a little bit. We all stayed to talk to him for about ten or fifteen minutes. We told him what influenced our decision the most. We let him know what evidence we didn’t believe, what we felt was irrelevant, and we listened as he told us what he felt the defense attorney did or said that was smoke and mirrors designed to distract us from the point. After this discussion, however, I don’t think any of us regretted our verdict. We still felt he didn’t prove his point.

It was weird to say goodbye to the jurors. I wrote on Facebook the next day:

First day back at work since Jury Duty ended (last Thursday doesn’t count, I was still in the middle of it and got a rare day off from court) and boy was it strange to be there! Like waking up from a realistic dream — this is reality, THIS is normal… but it feels like this is the weird part. It’s also like summer camp — it’s over, and I may never see my “temporary BFFs” again, even though we just spent hours and hours together most days for the better part of two weeks.
-My Facebook status on Friday morning, September 22

When I went outside to wait for my ride, another juror who lives close enough to walk home stayed to wait with me, as she had several days before. The plaintiff and his parents started walking toward us, and we stayed near the courthouse’s front doors. They started out questioning us calmly, but after a minute or two they got angry and belligerent, so the other juror and I went inside. There were plenty of court officers and security guards for our safety if needed, but the family did not follow us. The father did make a disgusting, uncalled-for comment regarding his wishes “if you have children,” which I will not repeat here, and I was happy for not giving a verdict in his favor. Their attorney was probably right when he said that putting the dad on the stand would have been a bad idea. Unfortunately for him, it didn’t matter anyway.

However, as I said before, I don’t really care what they think of me. I am proud of my decision, and that of the jury as a whole. I believe we came to the right verdict based on the facts as they were presented to us. I believe one hundred percent that justice was served. If they’re not happy with the verdict, then they should take that up with their attorney.

Case closed, verdict delivered. Foreman duties complete.
-My Facebook status on Thursday afternoon, September 21

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