One of the funny things about my job defending the civil jury system is that I’d never come close to serving on a jury myself. It’s not just that I’d never been called for jury duty, but I figured that despite how much I want to do it, and how fair I knew I would be, what insurance defense attorney would want me on a jury, right?
Well, that all changed this week. It was finally my turn to serve jury duty, and I couldn’t believe what happened.
I reported to Queens Civil Court at 8:30 AM Wednesday morning. After a day and half of waiting around I was called on a panel of three to be questioned by the two attorneys in a negligence case. I was on the hot seat. The plaintiff's attorney asked me right away about my employer, "Mr. Guyette what is the Center for Justice & Democracy?" With a smile I told him that we are a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the civil justice system and protecting consumers' right to a trial by jury. His face immediately brightened up. After several more questions about whether I could be fair in this case, it was the defense attorney's turn.
I told him that I thought of myself as a pretty fair guy who wouldn't jump to any conclusions before hearing all of the evidence on both sides. He was still concerned about my job and asked, "Mr. Guyette would you say your work is more pro-plaintiff or pro-defense?" I told him that I would not characterize my work as either, but rather "pro-consumer." He then asked, "Is there anything Mr. Guyette that I should know about you that I don't already know." Kind of an open-ended question I thought. I said "no" and told him that my life is pretty much an open book. Both attorneys then left the room to decide whether they wanted me. They came back, and much to my surprise, I was picked as the 5th juror!
What? I was sure the defense attorney would have knocked me off. But it turns out, as I later learned, the defense attorney had used all of his juror challenges the previous day. Oh well!
I was really looking forward to serving on this jury. So were the other friends I made - the four other jurors. We jokingly became known as the "Five Musketeers." But after a couple of hours waiting in the hallway and watching CNN, the two attorneys came back and told us the case had settled.
We were all a little disappointed. For all the initial sighs and groans, the people that I met while serving jury duty all wanted to be on a jury. I think we all had a positive experience together.
With a wink and a nod, the plaintiff's attorney told me afterward to "keep up the good work." And though I never sat on a jury, I met some wonderful people during my two days of service. The experience gave me even more respect for the jury process. Ordinary citizens coming together to decide what is fair in a given case. It is a remarkable system.