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A Good Juror Story

The news is full of “bad juror” stories. It’s not that there are so many of them; but when they do come up, they bounce all over the media. The bored juror who went AWOL in Oregon last month hit the ABA Journal on May 20, and was still making headlines in England on Friday.

Just in the last few days we’ve had stories of a female juror who rekindled a relationship with the defendant’s son during the trial; Al Roker in trouble for posting jury duty updates (including pictures of his fellow prospective jurors) on Twitter; and a California juror who swore she didn’t talk to the defendant’s sister during trial, while defense counsel says they have a tape that proves she did.

I admit I can get sappy about juries sometimes, but somebody has to tell the much more common good stories once in awhile. Here’s one, sent to me by Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge John DiMotto, a friend and sometimes commenter on this blog. Judge DiMotto sent this e-mail he got from Milwaukee juror Jim Wied. “I think he is typical of a lot of people who are called” to jury duty, Judge DiMotto told me — “not looking forward to it but [coming] away with positive feelings.” Mr. Wied had written:

Last week I was one of the jurors in the [I’ve omitted the name] trial. I just wanted to say I appreciated the detailed information you provided to the jurors on the trial process . This was my first time selected for a trial and I was uncertain what to expect. All juror members expressed a similar appreciation regarding how the case was handled and your willingness to take the time to explain the seven steps involved in a trial.

I have to admit when I reported for jury duty, due to my work responsibilities, I was initially hoping not to be selected for a trial. After last week’s trial I came away feeling this was a positive experience. My attitude, should I be called for jury duty again, would be a willingness to serve rather than as an interruption in my life. Your comments on the role of jurors, patience in answering questions and concern that jurors feel comfortable with their responsibilities are obviously the reasons for this change.

Thanks for making this a meaningful experience.

For lawyers and judges, the most important part of Mr. Wied’s message is the active verb in the last sentence. Lawyers and judges have the power to make jury duty meaningful or not — by explaining what’s going on, by showing our own respect for the jury system, by remembering how much context we need to provide. Often, the difference between an engaged and involved juror and a bored and cynical one isn’t the juror; it’s us.

Thanks to Mr. Wied for permission to use his words here.

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