Here Come the Judge


Having easily gotten out of jury duty the other day by claiming feebly that I was needed to ensure the uninterrupted daily publication of Reason Online (now there's a really essential public service), I'm wondering if there is any circumstance under which a productive member of society even could end up serving on a jury, and thus more than normally sympathetic to Jacob's fine analysis of how judicial override is increasingly putting the breaks on unreasonable jury-ordered settlements.

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  1. “I’m wondering if there is any circumstance under which a productive member of society even could end up serving on a jury. . .”

    Nope. They want you dumb and unemployable. Then you’ll be more inclined to want to sock it to Big Medicine/Oil/Fast-Food/Tobacco. . . etc. In short, “the Man.” Or if it’s a criminal case, the defendant will remind you of your many relatives in jail.

  2. As a rule, employers pay the difference between what a military reservist is paid by the gov’t and what he would normally make. surely some type of similar system can be made for jurors?

    (Pre-emptive: “Don’t call me Shirley”)

  3. I don’t know how I gave the impression that I weaseled out. As I said, I claimed feebly. That is, I reported my true work situation without exaggerating. Since I didn’t think the courts would view private sector employment as essential, I suspected they would either reject my request to be excused or assign me to a less burdensome trial than the eight-week lawsuit to which they had assigned me. Instead they excused me with no questions asked. Which is why I wonder how it’s possible that anybody with a job ever serves on a jury.

  4. I’ve never served on a jury. While I’ve been called (in both New Jersey and Maryland), I’ve always been rejected.

    When I tell the various court officials about my mugging in my apartment building in New York City in 1976, I’m taken off all sorts of criminal trials. Truthfully, I’m a bit relieved. Drudging up those memories is damned painful.

    With regard to civil trials, I can only speculate as to what’s going on. When questioned, I answer clearly and articulately. The facial reactions of lawyers and judges are interesting. They convey the impression that they think I’m unusually intelligent and independent (both are true). Then one or the other or both of the lawyers toss me off the jury.

    I’ve heard of instances (can’t recall one at present) where even prominent people have served on juries. How does that happen? Wouldn’t lawyers want to keep such people off the jury so as to prevent their undue influence on the other jury members?

    While I believe jurors should be better compensated, I don’t want them subject to hire like one poster proposed. The downsides of that (professional jurors, people with agendas, people with limited skills, etc.) are a bit too great for me.

  5. “As a rule, employers pay the difference…” So what? Who covers the difference if you’re self-employed? Why should an employer be additionally taxed to cover the difference?

    The “downsides”, or unintended consequences, are generally eliminated by a truly free market (according to libertarian philosophy anyway). Juries already are filled with “people with agendas” and “people with limited skills”. That’s kind of the result of the current system. And what’s wrong with “professional” jurors? We already have them (they’re called “judges”). Besides, like any other market activity, the “pros” would soon get discovered and would be selected or rejected by the opposing attorneys based on their abilities just like today. And the “pros” who are habitually dismissed probably won’t bother showing up.

    The only argument made for the current system is its illusion of “fairness” and a resultant representative cross-section of the population. But reality is something else. Does a truly free market have any downsides? Or do the downsides only affect those who don’t want a truly free market in the first place?

    The free market goes not guarantee utopia. But the current system tells intelligent people like Tim “Sorry, you’re too valuable to be on an important trial.” Why subject people to this insane lottery?

  6. Based on what I’ve heard, they pay you something feeble ($20.00 per day – probably decided back when they decided that things like a $500 fine or 90 days in jail were ‘equivalent’ punishments) but most private companies will pay you the difference. People who may stand to get screwed are the self-employed, because no one can cover for you or if they did you’d have to pay them what you made and still be without money for the duration. My violin teacher had to serve jury duty recently, but since most of her students are in the evenings (school age kids and working adults like myself) she just scheduled around it. Not sure that there’s always a way around it for folks like that though.

  7. The only time I ever got jury duty was two years after I moved out of the state I was called in (and it was sent to my parent’s address to boot). While their record keeping left me unimpressed, I would have served if I hadn’t been living 1000 miles away.

  8. Here’s one. I didn’t bother to make an excuse, so I served in the local court system. I didn’t get on a civil case, so I don’t know how the lawyers behaved there. On ours, there was a tendency to strike anybody who answered any question, no matter the answer.

    Since most of the questions were about children and whether we could convict without physical evidence, I didn’t answer and ended up serving. Neither lawyer is going to be the basis for a Grisham novel. The case was poorly argued on both sides and we, the jury had to struggle to figure out what we could believe of what we were presented. In the end, the Commonwealth failed to provide any corroboration of the victim’s testimony and we had to let the guy go. We were pretty sure he’d done something, but we couldn’t tell what based on the evidence we were given. Since the laws were written in such a way that very specific tests would have to have been proven in order to convict, we let him go.

    I really don’t want to be on a case like that again, but I’m glad I didn’t chicken out and then bitch that jury’s aren’t made up from people as reasonable as I.

  9. “…but I’m glad I didn’t chicken out and then bitch that [juries] aren’t made up from people as reasonable as I.”

    Wow. She got you there, mate.

  10. Perhaps you should tell future judges, in order to get out of your responsibility to civilized society, that you are worried that the state will simply come in and take everything that’s not nailed down while you are on jury duty.

  11. I agree with Sandy. It drives me nuts when people brag about weaseling out of jury duty. In order for the system to work, we need rational people to serve on juries. As it is, juries in this country are subject to the principle of adverse selection – those who probably should be on juries are avoiding jury duty, and those who absolutely should not be on juries are the only ones left. Hence some of the ridiculous jury awards that we read about in the news every day.

  12. Mr. Cavanaugh,

    When you eventually get popped for smoking those doobies, do you really want to be judged by 12 people who are really, really motivated by the opportunity to put someone in jail?

    This, my libertoid foils, in what you get when you debase the public sphere.

  13. ” Hence some of the ridiculous jury awards that we read about in the news every day.”

    Note that this also applies to criminal convictions, including death penalty cases. It’s not like the tort cases get stuck with the morons and layabouts, while criminal cases
    get to choose their juries from Socrates-class philosophers.

    (Not to mention that some corporations can survive a ridiculous jury award, but it’s difficult to survive lethal

  14. I work in the court system and for the most part, jurors do not get off with feeble excuses. The shortage of jurors around here ensures that everyone – judges and other court employees included – serve their time, or at least attempt to until an attorney sends them on their way.

  15. There’s no reason why we should ignore the fact that the word “duty” is the antithesis of the word “liberty”. The two MUST be reconciled. We did it with military duty, we can do it with jury duty.

    Why should I risk foreclosure on my property because the government decided that “it’s your turn” to serve without giving me any guarantee on how much time I have to serve and reasonable remuneration? All for some vague (and hypocritic) religious guilt? Screw that. Most people wriggle out of jury duty not because it’s a pain in the ass but because it’s a BAD DEAL.

    The government adminstration of justice should be subject to the free market just like everyone else. Why not have some sort of volunteer system? The courts know on any given day roughly how many jurors will be needed, why not let people volunteer to serve on a panel of potential jurors and pay them if they show up. This way, you will ensure that the jurors who show up WANT to “do their duty” (or at least want the money). Once enough people show up, the doors are closed and no latecomers get paid. If not enough people show up, you must not be paying enough.

    This will at least eliminate the bitterness that jurors have about being screwed by the system. Maybe having jurors not being screwed by the system means you’ll reduce the tendency that jurors may want to screw someone else in return.

    With a truly fair system, you will probably wind up with at worst the same demographic makeup of potential jurors, and maybe even a more representative one.

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