I served last month, it was the first time I’ve ever actually been on a jury and it was fun in its own way.
I was called in on 9/11 of this year so we all sat in the jury room until about noon waiting for something to happen. The Queens County jury room is not too bad, you are allowed to bring in computers, cellphones and food and drink, they have wireless access + about a dozen computer terminals with internet access. Then they called a couple of panels and my name came up.
So about 25 of us went into a little room that looked like a small classroom where we met 2 very young lawyers…one of them looked like a 20something George Bush which became an “inside jury joke” the next day and they called up 6 people, not me. They did not ask nearly as many questions of the jurors as I was used to, mostly they wanted to be sure you spoke English and didn’t know anyone involved on the case. They dismissed an elderly Greek woman that didn’t speak much English and a really obnoxious Israeli guy and kept the other 4. Then they called up 2 more people and took both of them. I thought I was safe …it’s a 6 person civil trial …then I remembered alternates. They called me up with one other person and accepted us both.
We had gotten a little bit of a clue as to what the case was about. A homeless veteran had been mugged at a homeless shelter run by the Salvation Army and he was suing the Salvation Army for his injuries.
We were told that we might not even be hearing about the injuries as the way it works in New York is that there is one trial to determine liability and a second trial, if required, for damages.
Then we were sworn in and sent home with instructions to come back the next morning. All day, we were promised that this would be a short trial.
I soon made some deductions myself. I figured that this plaintiff had probably been a real pain in the ass for a long time now and maybe he was mentally unstable to boot, and that was why this case had never been settled.
And the defense attorneys probably knew it was a dog, it was the defense attorney’s first trial EVER … they didn’t tell us that until it was over but I had guessed as much.
The jury w/ alternates consisted of
an older black woman from the deep South
an Irish schoolteacher
a Malaysian high school athletic coach
a young Greek-American female grad student
An older black woman from Trinidad that worked for a city agency
a Hispanic baggage Handler-male
a Polish electrican-male
Several of these folks were impressed that my grandparents had all been born in this country.Queens is a diverse place.
Anyway, we heard all the different accounts of how this fight occurred and there were really a lot of factors to consider. We got sent back to our little room several times…during one of those times they bought us lunch menus and we had food waiting the next time they sent us back to our room. Good food, too…and the court officers were all really nice and cordial and stopped by frequently to hang out with us. It was harder than you might think NOT to talk about the trial.
Then the testimony finished, by now I was bummed that I couldn’t deliberate( being an alternate). They let me and the other alternate wait in a separate room during the deliberations - where we discussed the case, we both exonerated the Salvation Army.
As did the jury. It took 40 minutes. The grad student actually wanted to assess them some liabilty but they changed her mind so they could go in unanimously ( 5 out of 6 would’ve been enough).
Analyzing the events was an interesting process. One thing I did not expect was dealing with all the questions that weren’t answered.
For example, the plaintiff the nasty drunk claimed the Salvation Army was responsible for security outside of the shelter while the defense claimed that the city police were responsible. Even though that question has a simple factual answer, I’m sure…we never got it.
I choose to believe the defense because the police response to the mugging was so immediate…and the guy got medical care, the police caught the mugger and convicted him and ran some sort of intervention/mediation that had him (the homeless guy, not the mugger) moving in with his family the next day. To me this sug gested that the outside of the shelter is heavily patrolled by city cops trained to deal with the homeless.
But I never got to deliberate. I did get to talk to the jury at length afterwards and their verdict seemed heavily based on sympathy towards the Salvation Army and charity in general, which did not really figure into my thought process.
it was actually a fun couple of days, if I had one of those jobs where you get paid tfor jury duty and someone else handles your work while your’re away I would volunteer. The Irish schoolteacher in my group went down to the office to volunteer for more days but I don’t know if they gave her any. The worst would be having to go in for multiple days without getting out of the big room but I think in Queens they send you home after a day ( or maybe two) if you don’t get picked.