But I still thought that was pretty exciting, if annoying, that I was on a jury and got to decide whether somebody was right or wrong under the law.
It was 2007. I was 20 years old and home from college for the summer, interning for a group of weekly newspapers in the Chicago suburbs. I got called to the courthouse in downtown Chicago and, apparently, something about my demeanor made both sides think “yeah, this guy will give this case a fair shake.”
The only reason this came to mind is because of a form pamphlet the Wisconsin Department of Justice recently posted for counties to give to jurors. The aim of the pamphlet is to warn jurors of the signs of stress after having to listen to and decide a serious criminal case.
But mine, at least for those who were not directly involved, didn’t seem that serious. It was an alienation of affection case, which essentially means the plaintiff, Arthur Friedman, sued German Blinov, the man Friedman’s wife slept with, for stealing his wife’s affections from him. The law doesn’t exist in Wisconsin, but was actually on the books for a while before being abolished in 1979.
Friedman asked, if I remember correctly, to rule in his favor and to award him $46,000.
And after a few hours of heated debate, we did give him something. A little less than $5,000.
And in terms of a trial, I could have done worse, both in terms of life-changing cases and just, well, being interesting. The testimony included claims of multiple trysts, a broken marriage and infidelity. One of the pieces of evidence was a topless cellphone photo of Friedman’s wife.
David Nemeroff, Friedman’s attorney in the case, said this case received the most press of all the cases he has tried throughout his career. He has, according to his website, participated in more than 60 jury trials.
“It was a crazy trial filled with sex and allegations of wife swapping,” Nemeroff said. “It had a lot of elements the media loves.”
But while the stakes were low relatively low in this case, it was still pretty stressful. Some jurors did not want to give him any money, while others wanted to give the full amount. Conversations got heated, and our deliberations ended up going long. I vividly remember a juror I was sure was a teamster yelling at me.
Eventually, a bailiff told us that if we didn’t decide by a certain time, we would have to come back in the morning to finish. So we compromised. Each of the jurors said how much they wanted to give Friedman and we divided by 12. After we figured it out, the trusted foreman (yours truly) handed the verdict to the bailiff, and the case was over.
The article about the case, written former Chicago Sun-Times reporter Steve Patterson isn’t publicly available, but a link to another site that posted the full text can be found HERE.
And, if you think you would be a good juror, check out this quiz the New York Times put up Wednesday.
Nemeroff, who specializes in personal injury and medical malpractice cases, said he hears from jurors that many cases he tries, be it for a lot of money or a little, that it can be difficult to decide a case.
And I am not saying that I needed that pamphlet or to seek any help for the case I’m on. As I said, the stakes in this case were pretty low.
But I can only imagine what goes on during deliberations in high profile cases that aren’t always so clear cut. There may be a few out there who were in the same position as Henry Fonda’s character, fighting hard for an outcome that could really change a defendant’s life.
And for them, it may not be as easy to laugh it off.