I found the ad on Craigslist. Some nameless organization was looking for mock jurors. Although the jurors were referred to as volunteers, $50 was being offered for two hours of time. I responded to the ad with an email, thinking I’d never get a response.
While I was selling jewelry and shiny rocks in front of a fancy salon, my phone rang. I had no customers, so I answered it. The woman on the other end of the line was responding to my response to the ad seeking mock jurors. She explained that lawyers were meeting for a conference, and they needed people to pretend to be jurors for a training exercise. She said I should plan to be there from 8am to 10am, but I’d likely be free to go before 10 o’clock. Most importantly, she confirmed that I’d receive $50 for participating. I told her I was in, and I made plans to be in the appointed place on the appointed day at the appointed time.
The night before the mock jury, I had a chance to sell jewelry at an event that ran until about 10pm. But the time I packed up and drove to where I was staying, it was nearly midnight. By the time I ate a snack, brushed my teeth, and relaxed enough to sleep, it was 12:30.
I pulled myself out of bed by 6:15, dressed in the clothes I’d worn the day before, and ate some breakfast. I walked out the door with plenty of time to make it where I was going, but when I settled into the driver’s seat, I realized that I’d written down directions from the wrong starting point. (I thought I’d be sleeping at one friend’s house, but ended up at another’s.) Luckily I have a Google Maps app on my (otherwise app free, not quite smart) phone. I got directions and set out.
The directions were fine, the traffic wasn’t bad, and I’d put gas in the van’s tank the day before, so I pulled into the driveway of the hotel where the event was taking place at 7:48. I had to stop at a security kiosk and explain myself to an attractive young woman guarding the premises. Did I mention that the hotel is actually a resort? Nothing says I Don’t Belong Here like driving a early 90s conversion van with a driver’s side window that won’t roll down to the security kiosk at the entrance of a resort. However, the young woman smiled at me, told me where I could park, and directed me to the main entrance where I was supposed to find a woman holding a sign saying “JURORS.”
I hurried into the main lobby and saw understated elegance such as I hadn’t witnessed since 1987 when I participated in The American Academy of Achievement and was housed at a resort in Scottsdale, Azizona. (“The Academy of Achievement is like no other organization in the world. For more than 50 years, this unique non-profit foundation has sparked the imaginations of young people across America and around the globe by bringing them into direct personal contact with the preeminent leaders of our times.” Read more about The American Academy of Achievement here: http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/pagegen/brochure/p1.html.)
What I didn’t see was a woman holding a sign saying, “JURORS.” Was I in the wrong place? Did I get the date wrong? Was I late after all and had missed my connection? I was looking around, trying to figure out my next move, when a woman approached me and asked if I were a juror. She was wearing a name tag bearing the name I was looking for, so I told her yes. Other jurors–two women and a man maybe 10 to 15 years younger than I am, a women and a (rather dumpy) man (with a strange look in his eye) probably at least 10 years older than I am, and a guy around my age–soon appeared, and we were briefed a little.
The mock jury (we were told) had been assembled as part of a learning exercise for a group of lawyers. We were told that during and after the “trial” we would be asked for our opinions and that we should be honest, as there were no right or wrong answers.
We then all walked together to another building, where the jurors were lined up in the order in which we would sit. This was the order: the younger guy, the older woman, the guy my age, me, the younger of the two younger women, the older of the two younger women, and the dumpy older man. At about that time, we were given our $50 checks. I was happy that was taken care of so I could get out of there as soon as possible.
We were told the lawyers at this conference were part of an international organization of attorneys set up for networking and support. We were also told the presentation we were to be part of was concerned with tribalism and neurobiology. This combination of tribalism and neurobiology was not explained sufficiently for me to have any real understanding of what the fuck they were talking about.
While waiting, we were not offered any coffee or water or snacks. I’d thought we would be offered food and beverages, but there were none in sight.
We filed into the conference room filled with lawyers. We sat on the stage with the “defendant,” the “plaintiff,” the “lawyers,” and the “witness” (all of whom I presume were actually lawyers).
First the plaintiff’s lawyer explained the circumstances of the “trial.” It was a civil trial. The plaintiff, an older man sitting in a wheelchair, was a retired 25-year veteran of the police force. At the time of the incident in question, he had been a security guard at an upscale jewelry store. When the defendant, a Latino man who was dressed very casually that day, entered the store, the boss told the plaintiff/security guard to keep an eye on him. Later, the boss told the plaintiff/security guard he thought the defendant had put a piece of jewelry in his pocket. The Plaintiff/security guard approached the defendant and asked him what he had in his pocket. The defendant told him it was none of his business and tried to leave the store. The plaintiff/security guard then blocked the door and took out his gun. Some sort of (never fully explained) scuffle ensued, and the plaintiff/security guard was shot and was now paralyzed and suing the plaintiff for some unspecified amount of money.
The plaintiff’s lawyer began questioning the members of the jury as if we were going through jury selection. When she asked if anyone had problems with cops, I kept my mouth shut and pretended to be a normal person. A couple of the jurors answered questions aloud (the guy sitting next to me said he did not believe security guards should be allowed to carry guns under any circumstances), but most of us just nodded or raised our hands where appropriate and didn’t speak.
Next, the defendant’s lawyer spoke before questioning the jurors. He said that the defendant was an independently wealthy man who was in the jewelry shop to pick out a ring for his fiancee. He was found not guilty in a criminal case and was not responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries and should not have to give him any money.The lawyer maintained that his client was singled out due to his ethnicity because the plaintiff was racist. The defense lawyer asked the jury if any of us had ever been accused of something we hadn’t done or if we had ever felt discriminated against.
At that point, the jury voted on whether we were more sympathetic to the plaintiff, the defendant, or neither. We voted with a small handheld device that looked much like a calculator. We just had to push a numbered button to vote. After the jury voted, the audience got to vote, also by pressing numbers on a handheld device. Once everyone had voted, the results were shown via bar graphs on a big screen. I was sympathetic to the defendant, but most of the jury and the audience indicated they were no more sympathetic to one than the other.
After the voting, the lawyers questioned the plaintiff and one witness, the owner of the jewelry store. It was never explained why the defendant was not interviewed. The plaintiff’s lawyer asked him a lot of questions which played up his career as a cop and his beating not long before his retirement by Latino gang members. I know what they’re doing here, I thought.
The defense attorney then questioned the plaintiff and the owner of the jewelry store. He tried to show that both of them were racist and singled out the defendant because of his ethnicity. He tried to convince the jury that the shooting was the plaintiff’s fault because he accused the defendant of something he had not done. The plaintiff basically said he was just following orders. (In my opinion, the plaintiff should have sued his former boss, the owner of the jewelry store.)
At that point, we voted again, first the jury, then the audience. I was still on the side of the defendant, but I don’t remember who got the most sympathy at that point.
Finally, each attorney gave brief closing arguments. The plaintiff’s lawyer again played up his career as a good cop, and she listed all the things he could no longer do (including make love to his wife). The defendant’s lawyer then reiterated the idea that the defendant, because of his ethnicity, was accused of something he had not done and should have been allowed to walk out of the store because he was innocent.
Everyone voted again. I was still on the side of the defendant. While the majority of lawyers in the audience were sympathetic to the defendant, the majority of the jury was sympathetic to the plaintiff. An audible grumbling arose from the audience when it was announced that the majority of the jury would have decided for the plaintiff.
The guy who’d organized this session spoke briefly after the results of the voting were announced. He mentioned that most of the lawyers present were defense attorneys. Oh, I thought, I like that I’m helping defense attorneys to do a better job. Then in almost the next breath, he mentioned that their clients were mostly corporations! What?! I was not happy to help slimy corporate defense lawyers. I had no idea I’d been sitting in the midst of the enemy, letting them pick my brain to learn how to manipulate jurors. (To be fair, unless they were psychic, they didn’t get much from my particular brain since I kept my mouth mostly shut.)
At that point, the presentation was over, and I got the hell out of there. The guy in charge of the presentation was shaking the hands of other jurors, but I didn’t want to touch his slimy corporate defense hands or talk to him, so I walked out and headed to the ladies room.
As I left the restroom, I saw where the lawyers were converging to drink coffee and eat pastries. I walked right over and helped myself to a to-go cup of coffee and a cheese Danish. I’d have thought a resort hotel would serve better coffee; this stuff was weak and not very tasty. I didn’t care though; I needed to wake up, and I wanted to get every tiny bit I could out of these corporate scumbag lawyer motherfuckers.