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Jury Geek

We Want a Jury that will Never Ever Vote Against Us

One thing I've always despised is lawyers who lie, in order to project what they think is the "right image" to the public. It is sick, sycophantic, and silly.

Look at these two "fact/fiction" questions and answers on the Texas Young Lawyers Association American Juror web page, which was cited on the Jur-E bulletin on December 16, 2005:

"Fiction: Attorneys only pick jurors with a college degree.

"Fact: The main thing we’re looking for from potential jurors is the ability to be open to both sides of a debate. It’s up to the lawyers to present the evidence clearly. But we count on the juries to be honest in deciding for themselves what is true and what is fair. That is not based on intelligence or education- it’s just a basic sense of right and wrong."

Let me make it clear: any associate with my law firm who looks mainly for jurors to be open to both sides of a debate will be unemployed before Voir Dire is over. We want jurors who will NEVER, EVER under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, WHATEVER THE EVIDENCE consider the other side of the debate. We want jurors who are 100% biased towards our side, 100% hostile to the other side, and if we can get 12 of them, we want them.

We will settle for a fair and impartial jury, as a bare minimum. We assume, and have never seen this assumption proven wrong, that the other side is also seeking jurors who will be committed to their case, and biased against ours. That's the way the game is played - and shame on TYLA for lying to the public and prospective jurors about it.

"Fiction: Lawyers ask questions designed to figure out who will help reach a verdict in their client’s favor.

"Fact: Voir Dire is a French term that means "Speak the Truth." Prospective jurors are sworn to tell the truth so that the attorneys or judge can ask questions to find out if they can be impartial unbiased, and trusted to make a reasonable decision based on the facts of the case."

Again, any associate with THIS firm who does not ask questions designed to figure out who will help reach a verdict in our client's favor will be unemployed before Voir Dire is over. We don't want a fair jury; that is the MINIMUM we will settle for. We want a jury that will NEVER, EVER under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, WHATEVER THE EVIDENCE, vote against us.

Any lawyer who says he wants a fair and impartial jury is either incompetent (being deluded by bar association PR) or is simply lying, lying, lying. The public knows that. I've spoken to many high school classes. I ask them what they think a lawyer wants out of a jury, and they tell me a jury that will vote for their client. We know they know. Yet we strangely persist in lying to them when we know we'll be caught. That's either insane or stupid.

What is weird is that bar associations lie, to people who they know will KNOW they are lying, in a vain attempt to improve the public image of the bar. What they are in fact doing is proving to the general public that lawyers are liars and manipulators who cannot be trusted - because they lie when, if they gave any thought to it, they'd know they'd be caught by anyone with two brain cells to rub together.

Kind of disgusting, this collective indifference to reality in the pursuit of image, isn't it?

P.S. I also tell high school classes that what the judge wants is a jury that will be compliant and will return on time after lunch. Judges HATE that I say that - one judge complained so much that the Houston Bar Association will no longer use me as a speaker. But that is the institutional bias of the judiciary. If we cannot tell the public the truth about what we do and how courts operate, it seems to me we have far more to worry about than our public image. What we have to worry about is that our public image may well be accurate.

JUST SAY NO When Asked for Personal or Financial Information

An interesting item just showed up on the NCSC Jur-E bulletin:

"A very resourceful man in NY County (Manhattan) designed his own juror qualification questionnaire. He mailed them out to select affluent zip codes in Manhattan using the telephone directory. People responded to a PO box that he opened returnable to The Questionnaire Processing Center (we do not have such a Center). He even provided envelopes. When he received responses, he then mailed the responders out a Juror Proof of Identity Form. Citing that NY State was asking for personal information in order to protect their identity. This form asked for Social Security number, outstanding loans, credit card information, employer name and mother's maiden name. From those who responded to that form he was now armed with enough information to wipe out several bank accounts. He was caught via a stakeout of the PO Box. He received 2 ½ to 5 years."

If he'd managed all this from a foreign country without extradition, he'd be enjoying his stolen money today.

Remember, boyz and girlz, it's just like Nancy Reagan used to say: when asked for personal or financial information, whether by a real or an ersatz government official, a phisher, or a pollster, JUST SAY NO.

Support New Orleans Musicians: Buy Small Labels

Many readers understand that I am concerned about what has been referred to as the "cultural diaspora" from New Orleans. What New Orleans artists want and need isn't a handout. What they want is to make more money by selling more records. And the best place to buy those records from is from a New Orleans distributor.

I'm told that the Louisiana Music Factory is back in operation, and that they are working through a backlog of orders. I'm giving nearly everyone on my disk NOLA music this Xmas - and hoping I whet their appetite so that they buy more on their own.

And I'm going to avoid the big names. Aaron Neville is going to be fine; I'm more interested in folks like those who record for smaller, local labels like Basin Street Records.

No better present for you and yours than a fine disk by Kermit Ruffins, Henry Butler or the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

It's a start.

Identity Thiefs Use Jury Duty Scam

Many stories of appeared recently on incidences of juror identity theft. Even the U.S. Military has chimed on on the issue. The way the scam works is described in one article:

"The scammer calls claiming to work for the local court and claims you've failed to report for jury duty. He tells you that a warrant has been issued for your arrest.The victim will often rightly claim they never received the jury duty notification. The scammer then asks the victim for confidential information for "verification" purposes.Specifically, the scammer asks for the victim's Social Security number, birth date, and sometimes even for credit card numbers and other private information — exactly what the scammer needs to commit identity theft.So far, this jury duty scam has been reported in Michigan, Ohio, Texas, Arizona, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Oregon and Washington state. " (There are recent reports of the scam being utilized in Alabama, as well.)

Apparently, the scam began being used by February, 2004; since then, it has rapidly spread around the country.

Apparently, these scams are all too real. The FBI has gotten involved in publicizing the scams. Even, the pre-eminent urban legend busters, have announced that this scam is real, with an unknown potential for financial harm. It is, by all accounts, widespread and growing.

What Jurygeek finds most interesting is that Snopes described this as a "social engineering" scam: " a technique which preys upon people's unquestioning acceptance of authority and willingness to cooperate in order to extract from them sensitive information. "

My, my. This sounds strangely similar to something Jurygeek noted back in June: that the tendency of people to obey authority allows them to be too easily manipulated. While in that post, Jurygeek was referring to the tendency of jurors to be too willing to convict against their own conscientious judgment in order to satisfy or appease authority figures, in the jury duty scam, people are being asked to comply with the request of a (feigned) authority figure.

When someone saying they are about to issue a warrant for your arrest calls, people tend to respond out of anxiety and a wish to appease the threatening authority figure. What is needed to protect ourselves from these sorts of scams, as well as to protect ourselves from manipulation as jurors, appears to be a cultural paradigm shift, away from the obedience to authority and in favor of exercising individual judgment.

One can hardly envision such a paradigm shift in our educational system: what public school teacher is going to begin class by saying "I want you to question and challenge everything I tell you"? (While I try to instill this value in my own child; my wife has resorted to pulling hair - mine!) Yet so long as we treat reflexive obedience to authority as a positive, rather than a negative, trait, we are subject to malevolent manipulation - whether by judges, prosecutors — or scammers.

Half the Jury Deep Asleep during Opening Statement

An interesting article in the New Jersey Law Journal. Seems that several jurors decided that the trial of Roy Higinia, in October, 1996, was less than compelling. In fact, four or five were allegedly "deep asleep," and several others were falling asleep.

This was in the defense attorney's opening statement.

Now, I'm not the most animated speaker. But putting half the jury to sleep during opening statement? Wow.

Now, I'm from Houston. It took the Federal courts to tell us that a lawyer has to stay awake in a capital case. Who woulda thunk it? Next thing, someone's gonna want judges to stay awake during trial. Heaven forfend!

The New Jersey courts rejected the complaint that a defendant is entitled to jurors who are actually awake and who hear all the evidence. Seems reasonable to Jurygeek.

But it seems to me that a defense attorney has to take an affirmative approach. Request breaks if the jury seems snoozy. Tell the jurors that they have to stay awake. Request the judge to intervene. Frequently.

Or maybe just not be so friggin' boring.

That said, a judge should also be aware of what the jurors are doing. And if one or more has faded away into the Land of Nod, he has a duty to act.

The Appellant should win in this case if the judge said "let them sleep." But if the defense failed to preserve the juror's snoozing in the record, it seems to Jurygeek that the defense is doomed. Maybe they can win on a Writ, but not on direct appeal.

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