Rethinking Jury Duty

November 13, 2003 by
Filed under: Uncategorized 

Every now and all the bits and pieces of information subconsciously gathered by a person?s mind and soul during his life settle in just the right formation, and something amazing happens. He suddenly gets it. He has an epiphany, an understanding, a sudden realization that makes him wonder why he never put it together before.

Something like this happened to me recently. It started a couple months ago when I received a jury duty notification in the mail. It?s that one piece of mail most of us dread. A day away from the shop sitting in a courthouse for hours, with the possibility of having to sit there for days or weeks if chosen for the jury. It had only been the second time in my 42 years that I had gotten the notice, so I really can?t complain too much, but complaining is just so much fun sometimes, that I made the most of the situation and whined enough to rival my techs.

The day came when I had to appear at the courthouse, and I decided to have fun, do some reading, and if I was lucky enough to get called to be questioned, to harass the poor unsuspecting lawyers. Wait till they got a load of me!

My morning started with a woman, who was a perfect body double for Fraiser?s wife, Lillis, ordering us all into the orientation hall. This woman?s hair was pulled back so tight her eyes were little slits. She was so prim, proper and uptight that, while walking, the friction from her butt cheeks rubbing together caused enough static electricity to create sparks as her knees passed each other.

The woman read a long list of rules, played a couple of old videos reminiscent of my 6th grade sex education films–without the suspense, and then introduced a judge who lectured us on the wonders, thrills and obligations of our judicial system. Amazingly, I– the winner of my high school senior ?Class Sleeper? award–managed to stay awake.

Shortly afterward we were herded into a couple of elevators, and then led down the dark hallway and into the courtroom. It looked nothing like the courtrooms on TV. I was very disappointed. The judge introduced himself, made a little speech about why we were there, and told us a little about the case. It was a personal injury case due to a car accident. He then introduced two young, eager and nervous attorneys. The two attorneys took turns reading off a list of names which included their clients, their clients? acquaintances, the attorneys? friends, family neighbors and on and on?.. This is to ensure no one in the jury pool knows anyone who?s ever met anyone who knows the attorneys or their clients. This exercise eliminated at least half of the jury pool.

Those of us who survived the first elimination round were brought back to the orientation hall to wait our turn to be interviewed. Thankfully, I was the second person called. Miss Electro-Butt ushered me into a very small room where the two lawyers were cozily waiting for me. Again, nothing like on TV where juror questioning is done in a courtroom.

The questioning began with the plaintiff?s attorney asking me to tell him a little about myself. ?Well, I run a bodyshop. Doesn?t that disqualify me from this case? I deal with accidents every day, see cars destroyed while the people inside receive little or no injury. And I also get the gold diggers who come to me wearing a neck brace for an estimate on a scratched bumper.?

The defense attorney perked right up after he heard that. I was playing these guys. I knew how to get out of jury duty. Mamma didn?t raise no fool. All I had to do was show that I?m biased against people who think of a car accident as a winning lottery ticket.

You would think that would end it for the plaintiff?s attorney. But no, he continued to question me for another ten minutes. He kept pushing me on the question, could I put my personal beliefs aside and follow a judges instructions to apply only the law to my decision? I kept telling him I didn?t know. It depended on the circumstances.

The defense attorney only asked me one question. Could I make a fair decision based on the evidence presented in the case? This was a question I could answer yes to. If the evidence showed the plaintiff as a gold digging low life, I?d keep his attorney from collecting a paycheck that week.

I made my prejudices so blatant during the questioning that I thought for sure I?d be out of there in minutes. But, unbelievably, the defense attorney wanted me on the jury. The plaintiff?s attorney presented a ?challenge for cause,? asking the judge to dismiss me. The judge questioned me and decided that I couldn?t be on the jury.

I was quite pleased with myself. I got out of jury duty again and had fun doing it.

A few weeks later I was watching something on the news about highly skilled doctors specializing in risky surgery. They were quitting their specialties and becoming general practitioners because they could no longer afford the malpractice insurance. Some of them had their premiums jump to almost $100,000 a year. Their premiums were going so high so fast because of the constant multi-million dollar jury awards for pain and suffering caused by doctors? mistakes.

I sat there fuming. Most of my life I have had a disdain for people who raped our legal system for money. Many times it?s people who have never contributed anything to society. Something happens to them and they win millions. Like with Rodney King. Yeah, they beat the crap out of him, and he probably deserved some compensation. But the guy has been a parasite most of his life. You don?t give a loser like this millions of dollars. Jurors need perspective. A few thousand bucks would have been more money than he?s ever seen in his life.

Here in Connecticut we have been fighting with the insurance companies over labor rates. I know, everywhere in the country the fight goes on. But the battle here is really heating up. On one hand the insurance companies are constantly paying out millions in punitive compensation, while on the other hand they are fighting feverishly over a few dollars per hour on bodyshop labor rates. To me, it didn?t make sense. Then it hit me. Why shouldn?t they spend their energy nickel and diming bodyshops into ruin? We?re easier prey. We?re just a bunch of uneducated, grease monkey gear heads who call ourselves business people. And they are right! Trial attorneys are a smart bunch of people. They aren?t as easy to muscle around. All they have to fight the trial attorneys with are other attorneys, who may or may not be smart enough to win.

Bodyshop owners and managers are getting smarter all the time. And they are starting to win some of the battles with the insurance companies. But this industry has miles to go before it begins to even approach the mental and financial resources of the trial attorneys. As long as we are the path of least resistance the insurance companies will try to take advantage of us. Because becoming an adversary equal to the trial attorneys is going to be so difficult, we need to help relieve some of the pressure exerted by the trial attorneys. If we can help keep the cash flow to the lawyers in check we might be able to divert some of it our way.

Trial attorneys are killing our freedom and our way of life. So much of our lifestyle has been affected by our fear of being sued. But we can?t blame just the attorneys. The juries are more to blame. It?s the jurors who grant these insane damage awards. Who are these fools? Who are these jurors who pay some idiot for spilling coffee on her lap? Who feels sorry enough for some drug dealing, life-time criminal, societal leach to put him in a Mercedes and penthouse apartment because he got a long deserved beating?

More important than the question ?who are these jurors?? is ?who aren?t they?? They aren?t you and me. And there was my epiphany! Here I was all proud of myself for not getting picked as a juror, when if I had been picked, I could have made a difference and helped stop this madness. All it takes is one juror to say no, and the gold digger gets nothing. Or if the plaintiff has a legitimate claim, that one juror can help keep the damage award reasonable. It?s us hardworking, reasonable thinking people who are too busy to serve on a jury. It?s us who find a way to get dismissed. And it?s the Oprah loving nuts picked as jurors who are sucking the life out of this country with outrageous damage awards.

Nationwide tort reform is not likely since we keep electing lawyers to congress. Very few lawyers are going vote to limit their own income. A juror, however, has a tremendous amount of power. One juror can decide the fate of another person?s life, or the fate of a huge corporation even. We are not taking advantage of our power. We are putting the wrong people on juries by not participating. If we can?t get the laws changed, we can take over the law through jury nullification. It?s happening more often now than ever. Juries are refusing to convict people who have been accused of breaking moronic laws. They are ignoring the law and the judge?s instructions and doing what is right and sensible. Juries can also take back the control of the money flow.

It would have cost me two days of my time to sit on that jury a while back, but I could have made sure that an injured person received a reasonable award, or I could have sent a frivolous gold digger home empty handed.

I?m not due to be called for jury duty for another three years. The next time I do get called I?m going to try to get on the jury. I?ll tell them what they want to hear. I?ll do this not because I dislike lawyers and accident victims. I don?t dislike either. I?ll do this because the courts need reasonable people on juries. They need people like me. They need people like you. Think about it. If the insurance companies didn?t lose so much money to trial attorneys maybe they wouldn?t be so stingy when it comes to paying for collision repair. Yeah, right!

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One Comment on Rethinking Jury Duty

  1. Dave Roper on Sat, 3rd Jan 2004 1:47 pm
  2. Amen brother, I recently returned to the body tech PROFFESSION after a two and one half year Had Enough sabbatical and it surprises me that the insurance companies have made even MORE inroads into our pocketbooks.We who work on commission in small shops cannot aford to spend weks in jury duty without severe consequences. How about equivalent pay? We have to understand that the system only works if EVERYBODY actually participates. P.S. I worked for Hoffman Olds/Rolls Royce in Hartford in ’73-’74 And attended many of the Greater Hartford Auto Body Assoc. meetings. Dave in St.Louis MO>

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