Thursday, March 10, 2005

Med mal and tort reform -- new data

The New York Times this morning carried an interesting piece by four law professors describing their analysis of medical malpractice cases in Texas between 1988-2002. Their study casts doubt on the claims of those who would impose caps on jury awards, showing a remarkable stability in jury verdicts in favor of the plaintiffs over time, the number of large claims over time, and the number of total paid claims per practicing physician over time. They conclude:
In short, as far as medical malpractice cases are concerned, for 15 years the Texas tort system has been remarkably stable.
This isn't surprising, given similar work by Neil Vidmar and others on juries and medical malpractice (read his fine book Medical Malpractice and the American Jury, University of Michigan Press).

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Supreme Court bans death penalty for juveniles under 18

The U.S. Supreme Court today found the death penalty for juveniles under the age of 18 unconstitutional (Roper v. Simmons). The majority opinion discussed the distinctive features of juveniles that made them less culpable, and noted international trends against the execution of juveniles.

Along with Bill Bowers, Mike Antonio, and Ben Fleury-Steiner, I've written about juries and the juvenile death penalty in pieces in Boston University Law Review and Judicature -- we found capital jurors extremely reluctant to impose death on juveniles under 18. Now they won't have to agonize about that particular form of punishment for juveniles.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Love and jury duty

Today's New York Times Weddings and Celebrations features a story about finding love on jury duty....
In the jury box, where Erika Leigh Ozer and Dr. Jeremy David Sperling became acquainted, they were deeply divided over the evidence before them - differences that contributed to a hung jury. But there was one thing they came to agree on: they wanted to see each other again after the trial.
What a lead! New York's Chief Judge Judith Kaye is a strong and effective proponent of New York jury reform. I've heard her mention in public speeches that jury duty is a great place to meet people. It worked for Ozer and Sperling -- they served together on a jury in August of 2001, and were married in February 2005.

That hung jury worries me though. The story writer Jennifer Tung says that
Ms. Ozer and nine others voted for the conviction of the drug dealer; Dr. Sperling (who doubted the credibility of the main witness) and one other juror did not. Although the trial resulted in a hung jury, Ms. Ozer's and Dr. Sperling's opposing views in the courthouse had no impact on their growing friendship and budding romance.
In a hopeful spin, the bridegroom's dad says that the newlyweds "certainly challenge each other, but they seem to have an effective resolution mechanism. They do a great job of negotiating."

Why didn't they negotiate to a verdict then?

Can this marriage last?

Saturday, February 26, 2005

That was fast! MJ jury selected

CNN and other news sources expressed some surprise that less than a week was necessary to cull 12 jurors and 8 alternates from the jury pool. Most people, myself included, thought it would take a few weeks to question prospective jurors, especially because their questionnaire answers revealed that many knew of Jackson and prior charges against him. California courts tend to take their time in questioning, and allow attorneys to participate in questioning, unlike some other jurisdictions like mine (Delaware) that have very speedy jury selections.

A few tidbits about the jurors from CNN:

Lawyers finished selecting the four-man, eight-woman jury Wednesday. The oldest juror is a 79-year-old woman; the youngest, a 20-year-old man. Another eight alternate jurors -- four men and four women, ranging from 19 to 81 -- were chosen Thursday afternoon. One of the alternates, a 52-year-old woman, said she had a friend who worked for Jackson but did not specify in what capacity. Another, a 36-year-old UPS driver, said he had made deliveries to Jackson's Neverland ranch and had taken his children to events there at least once.The oldest, a widow, has served on two juries in drunken driving cases, both of which resulted in convictions.

Everyone mentions the race and ethnicity of the jurors; see this account from the LA Times:

The 12-member panel, selected Wednesday after just three days of questioning, consists of three or four Latinos and a woman of Asian background, with the remainder being white. Attorneys for Jackson, who is African American, objected when two black women were rejected as prospective jurors. The alternates are four men and four women ranging in age from 19 to 81. Six are white. The others are an African American man and a Latina.

And from CNN:

The youngest, a self-described "delivery boy," is the only African-American among the total panel of 20. Less than 2 percent of the population of Santa Barbara County is African-American.

I like this LA Times quote from an alternate juror:

A 64-year-old Army retiree who expressed admiration for Jackson's dancing: "I'm not so much into his music, but I sure like his moves," he said.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

MJ's history versus blaming the victim

Jeremy points out that "Slate and various places are suggesting that MJ is going with, intentionally or because he can't help it, the I'm-such-a-freak-I-can't-even-pull-it-together-to-try-to-look-remotely-normal
-in-the-courtroom-but-this-doesn't-mean-I-molest-children defense. " It's not his flamboyant clothing that is so critical. The problem is that MJ's persona and strange history are sexually charged; think of the many odd stories you've heard over the years about him, his relationships with children; and even the gender ambiguity of his surgically modified face. All of these could feed into a set of expectations (in line with implicit personality theory) about the types of people who molest children, which in turn may aid the prosecutor's story that MJ molested the boy.

That said, the defense apparently has a clear "blame the victim" plan -- and it just might work. Put together the all too common tendency to blame the victim of a sexual assault with the popular wisdom that plaintiffs in civil lawsuits can't be trusted (here, question the financial motivation of the boy's family to concoct a false story of sexual assault) and you have a potent combination.

Thoughts about MJ jury selection

The LA Times reports that lawyers in the Michael Jackson trial are sifting through 2,000 pages of jury pool responses to the jury selection questionnaire. A few things are clear already -- most people have heard about the current charges against Jackson, 9 of 10 according to E! Online. And reflecting some of the connections typical of small cities, a number of members of the jury pool report some kind of personal connection to MJ. In a story "Six Degrees of Michael Jackson," E! Online says about 1 of every 7 jurors has some personal tie. The LA Times reports these responses:

"My niece-in-law's sister has dated Ely, Michael's cousin, and we have attended family functions with Ely," wrote a 43-year-old woman from nearby Buellton.

Juror 87 said his uncle is a friend of Jackson. And Juror 95 said a friend works at Jackson's 2,700-acre Neverland ranch.Several members of the pool said they had visited Jackson's ranch.

"I went to Neverland w/ special ed for my sch. dist.," wrote Juror No. 10, a schoolteacher. "My disabled daughter was allowed to go to Neverland, but Mr. Jackson was not present during her school visit," wrote Juror No. 243, a risk analyst.

But more critical, in my view, is whether or not potential jurors know of the previous settlement MJ made with another child on similar charges. Again relying on "Six Degrees of Michael Jackson,"

Some 60 percent of the potential jurors were also aware of the 1993 investigation against Jackson on similar charges of child molestation that resulted in a multimillion-dollar out-of-court settlement.

The prior charges may or may not be admitted into the current trial. They may not need to be, with that high level of knowledge!

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Some jury websites

Here are some useful websites on the jury.

  • Center for Jury Studies, National Center for State Courts. The NCSC has been doing jury research and consulting to courts on jury issues for many years. They've compiled a nice set of reference materials at this site -- research and practice summaries, recommendations for further work, and readings. Many of their research reports are online and available for downloading.
  • National Jury Center of the American Judicature Society -- another terrific resource of information about the practice of jury trials. I especially like their 40-page bibliography of recent research and writing about the jury -- but it's not for the casual reader!
  • The American Bar Association's President Robert Grey, Jr. has launched a Jury Initiative to develop a set of agreed-upon jury principles, including the best practices for jury trials, and to undertake educational efforts and outreach to the public around jury issues.
  • The Constitutional Rights Foundation of Chicago has a wonderful site if you're interested in educating students and others about the jury. The American Jury includes background information, teaching plans, and exercises. Educational activities are also included in some of the other sites such as the National Jury Center and the ABA's Jury Initiative.
  • You can subscribe for free to the NCSC's Jur-E Bulletin -- a weekly email list that includes an engaging mix of amusing and informative stories on the jury, edited by Anne Skove at NCSC.
Fellow bloggers, add your own recommendations!

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Jury selection questionnaire

CourtTV has posted the MJ jury selection questionnaire.

The perspective of an excused MJ juror

From the Santa Maria (California) Times, Answering the Call of (Jury) Duty, an interesting piece by one of the many prospective jurors granted a hardship excuse -- who also happens to be an associate editor at the paper. The Santa Maria Times looks like a great local resource of information about the MJ trial.