Thursday, February 10, 2011

Jury Duty (Again)

I just thought I'd put the warning out that I have been summoned for Jury Duty next week, for a trial that could last a month.

Of course, I'm just as likely to be dismissed from the case. It's a lawsuit regarding BayerCropScience and an action they took which damaged the Arkansas Rice market a few years ago. Given my close friendship with several Arkansas Rice farmers and the fact that I have heard their side of the story and believe them, I won't exactly be impartial.

Then there's the other issue I have with this case. If you're like Ann Hibbard and have never been summoned for jury duty, you haven't seen the 'Preliminary Juror Questionnaire." A letter comes along with a form, and you are told to return the form, filled out completely, or go to jail. The questions are basic: name, address, employer, whether or not you have criminal charges pending. (I thought about listing "Criminal charge for failing to return Juror Questionnaire Pending")

Where this system then turns intrusive is this: your questionnaire is then provided to the parties in the case. That's right, your name, address, employment situation are all provided to the parties involved. That means that if you're a juror on a murder trial, the (alleged) murderer has your home address.

In this case, it means that one party or the other has begun digging into the background on the people in the jury pool. How do I know?

Blog stats. About a week after the juror questionnaire was mailed in, my blogs started being visited by "JurySync, LLC" which is a company that provides consulting services that "Connect lawyers with Jurors." They were featured at a convention focused on defending mega-corporations from lawsuits as helpful in guiding jury research.

Their IP address has been a consistent hit on my blog, the church's website, and my family's blog, about every week since that day.

This makes me uncomfortable. Not that they have developed my public information---if I really minded that, I shouldn't have a blog. Rather, it bothers me that our legal system encourages this type of behavior.

Let's just run it down as a list of how our jury trial system works:

1. An American citizen registers to exercise a fundamental right: voting.

2. That registration is used to populate the 'potential jurors' list.

3. When that citizen's name is pulled from the list, they are then told, under threat of force, that they have to submit personal information to the court.

4. The court system turns this coerced information over to all sides in the court case. This includes criminals and major corporations that are at risk of losing millions of dollars, based on the citizen's decision making.

5. The sides of the case with the information then begin to investigate the citizen.

6. Again, under threat of force, the citizen is then mandated to appear in court, answer more questions publicly about his/her personal feelings and beliefs.

7. Unless the citizen works for a company that can spare them, their work and life are in the balance pending how long the case takes.

8. Oh, and the judge won't allow the jurors to have their cell phones, even though criminal defendants have sat in court and used theirs during case breaks.

In all, while the jury system is necessary, somehow this doesn't work out as quite fair, does it?

First of all, shaping the jury to be favorable to one side or the other: the idea is that 12 people hear the evidence and vote on it rather than 1 judge deciding. They should be 12 citizens, at random, nothing more, nothing less.

Second, investigating jurors: jury selection should not involve giving private information about jurors to the parties. Especially since there is little acknowledgement to jurors that they are being investigated by the parties and since the information is gathered under the threat of force of the state.

Third, can we not find a way to take the need for juries, match that up with the need for unemployment payments and let people live their lives? If these cases drag out, there will be farmers that can't get crops planted on time, because they're stuck in court. I'll miss several school deadlines because I'll be on this trial.

I am all for giving fair trials, especially for individuals that are accused of crimes, but my observation last year was that all of those trials could have taken half the time if there hadn't been the monotonous repetition and if the lawyers had come to court to try the case and not delay it.

As to this one, it's actually simple, although they plan to take a month at it: a corporation released/allowed to release a genetically modified seed that destroyed the marketability of the crop. Said corporation did not notify farmers they had done this. Genetically modified crops got mixed in with normal crops. Therefore, major markets refused to buy any rice grown around here and some people went bankrupt and some barely didn't go bankrupt. Corporation denies responsibility. Farmers sue. Farmers are right on this one. It takes an hour to cover the specifics.

It would take BayerCropScience 5 minutes to apologize and 10 minutes to figure damages and cut the checks. Instead, they're wasting my time, the court's time, and hiring people to investigate me. I am not happy.

And, for the record, I am not unbiased, either.


  1. Sucks living in an open democracy. If it make you feel any better, my dad sat on a jury during a civil trial with similar circumstances (cut and dried from any perspective but still drug out in court) back in the mid 60's. He tells the same horror stories of nonsensical behavior of the corporate lawyers involved that you allude to. I don't think he had to do the survey though, but many of the other attributes were present. This is probably not encouraging, but it just goes to show that as long as there have been people in the process, this problem has existed in one form or another.

  2. I believe it hasn't gotten any better.

    At least we get jury trials and have the freedom to vent about them!!

  3. I think my real complaint is about the digging into your past just to be a juror. It's not like we have a choice about serving, and we should be willing to do it.

    Yet firms making millions to investigate me? How would it be received if I hired someone to investigate the judge to determine if he's appropriate to handle the trial?

  4. Thanks for sharing this informative post. im sure many readers will love this one. Keep on posting like this and more power!

  5. I'm shocked they give your personal info to both sides - had no idea!

    Ironically, I've been called for Jury Duty three times, each time within a couple months (or so) of giving birth. The nursing babies got me off, so I've never sat on a case.

    Now I'm even gladder. (grammar?)


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