Monday, September 24, 2007

Of Trials, Tribulations and A Really, Really dumb Juror

Generally a Jury will do the right thing: Listen to the facts, decide a case and get on with life. Of all the jury trials I've had the Jury has come to the right decision and most have been quite sharp and perceptive.

How do I know this? After a trial judges often give the jurors the option of talking with the attorneys and the jurors often graciously give some time to talk with us, give us pointers on our performance as attorneys and ask questions, oftentimes very pointed questions, such as why didn't the police report come in as an exhibit? (You then get to explain that the rules of evidence preluded it from being admitted.), or why we said something or what we should have said to be even more convincing or what questions they still would want to have resolved.

The Juries I've been before also have consistently some of the best poker faces I've ever seen - we're talking tournament quality here, and you just couldn't read them.

As I said most juries do the right thing....but this one juror...

I was in District Court on a landlord-tenant eviction case and was doing the entire trial by myself with no partners present. It was a jury trial as it was to evict a harrasing and threatening tenant from a HUD subsidized apartment.

The trial went very well indeed, and we awaited the Jury's verdict.

After long deliberation and some interesting questions from the Jury (showing that they clearly were paying attention during the trial and were taking their deliberations seriously) the Defense Counsel and I were called by the Judge into her chambers.

The Judge (a very professional, courteous, smart and capable Judge indeed by the way, she ran a great trial) told us that the jury had reached a verdict but there was a problem. The jury had sent a note that one of the jurors had gone and visited the apartment complex twice.

Now this is a no-no. The instructions to the Jury are very clear, they are not to go visit the scene or do their own investigation.

The Defense attorney knowing a walk is as good as a run immediately requests a mistrial. (A mistrial results in the trial being held once again and the tenant gets to stay while that is happening).

I request that we at least interview the juror and jury and see what actually has happened and the judge agrees.

So we interview the Juror and he says he only drove by the building to see if there were air conditioners, which were a side issue in the case. He also says he thought it was a nice place.

The Defense immediately claims that the juror and jury was tainted by this excursion and again demands a mistrial.

I point out that this is the very definition of harmless error as both Plaintiff and Defendant admit its a nice place to live, otherwise why would Defendant want to keep living there? I also point out that the outside of the building has nothing to do with the Defendant's behaviors that are leading to his eviction nor to his retaliation claim against Plaintiff for trying to evict him.

The Judge sadly for me, grants a mistrial.

On speaking with the Jury after the trial, the verdict was for my client and for the eviction 5-1 (In Michigan a civil jury does not need to be unanimous, you only need 5 of 6 jurors).

So 4 court days, 3 of which were trial days before the jury are down the drain and the trial has been rescheduled and we get to do it all over.

Thanks a lot, Juror Clouseau, next time please wait for the trial to be over to satisfy your curiosity.

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