We The People: The Case for Jury Duty

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I recently read an article about a British fellow who indicated in a jury questionnaire that “I strongly believe that it would be a serious injustice to the legal system to select me for jury service…I hold extreme prejudices against homosexuals and black/foreign people and couldn’t possibly be impartial if either appeared in court. Therefore it would not be in the court’s interest to have me a juror.”  Now he’s facing potential criminal prosecution for failing to serve on jury duty.

I understand that people don’t want to serve on juries.  I get it.  I remember when I was in medical school and I got called to jury duty, I dreaded being forced to go down to the courthouse and ‘waste’ days upon days sitting and waiting at the courthouse (except for the fact that being called for duty got me out of my ob/gyn rotation).  But then something happened.  I got picked to be on the jury and not only that, I got to act as the foreperson.  It changed my perspective on our legal system and was probably one of the compelling reasons I decided to attend law school.

Serving on a jury is tough and time consuming, and often boring.  I know it.  I know it not only because I’ve been on one, but because I’ve sat through eight trials in the past two years and have listened to defense attorneys drone on and on and on in the most boring manner possible about the defenses of their clients. But even still, every American needs to realize how important a jury is and what it means to our justice system.

The civil jury is the way that our community is allowed to measure what is right and what is wrong.  It’s the way for our community to give compensation where it’s deserved and to deny it where it’s not.  And equally as importantly, the mere possibility of having a jury empaneled in a case undeniably pressures nearly every defendant to more accurately value the claims against it/them.  Defendants often have zero motivation to offer fair compensation in a lawsuit.  That is, until a trial date is set.  Until a defendant knows that their claims and their defenses are going to be judged by 9 or 12 completely objective individuals, defendants have little motivation to do what’s right.  The mere threat of having a jury happen puts fair market value on the table.

At the end of the day, juries are important for the same reasons that attorneys are important, and especially consumer attorneys (aka what the public often calls ‘ambulance chasers’).  We keep people and corporations honest.   Juries keep people and corporations honest.  We are, in fact, the watchdogs of our society.  So where there’s minimal chance of winning, plaintiff’s attorneys would be fools to take on that case or put such a case in front of a jury, and where there’s a significant chance of losing, defendants and their attorneys would similarly be fools to put their claims in front of a jury.  By the same token, if the claims don’t have merit, then the fear of putting those defenses in front of a jury just isn’t a big deal.

And regardless of what anyone says, juries usually get it right.  Not always, but most of the time.

In short, the importance of having a jury and serving on a jury cannot be underestimated or undervalued.  It is what protects our democratic society.  So when that jury summons comes in the mail next time, don’t think of every possible way that you can get out of it.  Think instead about what it means not only to you, but to your community, to the individual or business that needs you on that jury, and to your country as a whole.  There’s a reason why the U.S. has the most sophisticated system of justice in the world.  It’s because we have people like jurors who afford plaintiffs and defendants alike the right to see that justice gets done.

— Bradley I. Kramer

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