The Daily

What Is A Jury Trial (No. 3)?

Benches outside Broward County Courtrooms where I learned jury trial strategy with Dad.


What most people don’t understand – and most lawyers don’t want to talk about – is that jury selection is more DEselection. Everyone thinks they have no prejudices (they do) and can be fair in every case (they can’t).

There’s a famous story about President George Herbert Walker Bush withdrawing as a judge in a state fair cook off because he detests broccoli – and, as it happened, one of the finalists was a broccoli casserole. It’s kind of like that. Except easier to admit when it comes to vegetables than neighbors.

The principle is the same. There are some preconceived notions (regardless of where you got them) about things and people that are just hard to shake. Once you’re on the jury, it’s a little late to figure out what to do about the problem – if you even recognize it.

Lawyers consider it their job to flesh out which jurors hold these preconceived notions. It won’t get you out of jury duty when they find you – but it may get you off that case if you have the strength to admit it. The problem is worse if you recognize the predisposition and keep it to yourself.

Countless hours of time and money have been poured into a case by the time it gets to trial, not to mention the time and stress of the parties in waiting for their day in Court. In my cases, those parties are often grieving and severely injured families. Trust me when I tell you – it is terrifying for them to watch the lawyers sift through a panel of forty or fifty citizens who may judge the facts of their case.

I’ve had every kind of unpredictable conversation with potential jurors during voir dire (French for “to speak the truth”). Trying to make a point about money judgments in my early career, a wealthy banker’s wife once remarked after I suggested the jury could award more money than I asked for (which is certainly true): “Mr. Thompson, pardon me. You look like a very nice young man. But I really don’t think you’re going to ask for not enough money.” She had no idea what the case was about. You get my point.

When called, take jury duty seriously. Like all of our civic responsibilities, it is important. We count on one another for it. Use it as an opportunity to put yourself in another person’s shoes. Maybe even reflect on your own experiences and how different ones may have changed your perspective on things. Keep an open mind. Not rhetorically, but literally. Someday the shoe may be on the other foot.