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.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Some information about the MJ jury questionnaire

Lots of potential jurors for the 5-6 month Michael Jackson trial. According to CourtTV:

Trial observer Jim Hammer, a former San Francisco assistant district attorney, said jury selection may be going faster than expected because more than the usual number of prospective jurors were willing to participate in the case.

"I think part of it is the celebrity factor, being a part of history," Hammer said. "If anything, more than half this jury (pool) is willing to serve."

I'd like to compare this 50% rate of ability to serve on a 6-month trial with the typical willingness of jurors to serve on other, shorter trials. I am betting it's better. As Mike Johnson commented in an earlier post: "Wow! Book deals must be lucrative." Courtroom observers all noted that many jury pool members seemed very interested in seeing Jackson in person, and who can blame them?

The LA Times and other sources say that the Michael Jackson jury questionnaire has been released. According to the LA Times story today:

The judge in the Michael Jackson child molestation case today released an eight-page jury questionnaire that stunned some legal experts with its bare-bones approach to ferreting out attitudes about complex issues in the pop star's upcoming trial.

The questionnaire asks potential jurors 41 questions, with most requiring simple yes-no or multiple choice responses.

Only about a dozen questions appear to directly address issues in the case. The rest are for the most part generic queries about employment, residence, marital status and education. "I was surprised that it wasn't more detailed and didn't really press jurors for their attitudes," said Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor who teaches at Loyola Law School. "It's not unusual in high-profile cases to see questionnaires that run 50 or 75 pages."

Attorneys for both sides are poring over responses from some 250 jury candidates who this week indicated a willingness to serve for as long as six months. Next Monday, the attorneys will start interviewing each prospective juror in court, using the completed questionnaires as their guide.

The questions were crafted by Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville after receiving a more extensive list assembled jointly by prosecutors and defense lawyers.

Some questions clearly are tailored to the case, in which Jackson is charged with molesting a 13-year-old cancer patient.

Prospective jurors are asked whether they or any relatives or close friends have been accused of or victimized by "inappropriate sexual behavior." They also are asked whether they or people close to them have done any work for children's advocacy groups.... One question asks whether prospective jurors or their loved ones have been diagnosed with cancer. ...The questionnaire also addresses racial issues, asking whether "your feelings about or experiences with people from different races might affect your ability to serve as a fair and impartial juror in this case."
Although I'll wait to see a copy of the questionnaire before making up my mind, I'm cautiously optimistic that this is a sensible and effective questionnaire. Unlike the outrageously long, overly detailed, and sometimes downright offensive OJ questionnaire (I suspect Laurie Levenson had that case on her mind), this one seems to tailor questions to the important and significant features of the case that might cause jurors to be biased. I worry a bit about the fact that most of the questions ask for "simple yes-no or multiple choice responses" since open-ended responses can provide a more nuanced picture of jurors' views, but I suspect that the judge and the attorneys will follow up the yes-no responses with open-ended questions in court that will further explore potential jurors' experiences and views.

For more on what makes for effective jury selection, see an article I wrote with my student Alayna Jehle for the Chicago-Kent Law Review.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

"Thriller" star's jury selection underway

According to news reports of the first day of jury selection in Michael Jackson's trial, about half the prospective jurors who showed up at the courthouse have asked to be excused from service. One of the things I find most troubling about "celebrity" trials is that they take so long. It's not just that I get sick of the saturation media coverage -- it's that I worry about who is going to be able to sit on the jury. The Jackson trial is predicted to last between 5 and 6 months. Who can set everything aside for that length of time? Not a representative cross-section of the population.

Two amusing stories from the LA Times about the prospective jurors:
Another man told [Judge] Melville that he wanted to serve on the jury but happened to be under house arrest for two more weeks and currently wears an electronic monitoring bracelet. Melville told him he could be part of the pool and the court would figure out something to do about his bracelet.

Another prospective juror said his boss wouldn't pay him during jury duty. "Your employer doesn't pay for jury service?" a taken-aback Melville asked. "No, sir," the man answered. "He's an attorney."

I'm rooting for the guy with the electronic monitoring bracelet, just to support a literal "jury of peers" theme, but there's no chance he'll wind up on the jury!

There are some new efforts to try to increase the compensation for jurors in long trials, but the better solution is to insist on shorter trials.

I'd like to see the jury selection questionnaire; anyone know if it's available online?