The Daily


One of my favorite films about trial lawyering is The Verdict (1982), starring Paul Newman and directed by Sidney Lumet.  David Mamet adapted the screenplay from a 1980 novel by Barry Reed. Newman plays Frank Galvin, a lawyer holding on tightly to a medical malpractice claim near the end of his career. He is strung out on a life of pressure, stress and alcohol. After a trial filled with ups and downs, the movie ends with a jury question. We never learn the verdict during the film – it ends with a juror questions about whether the jury could return more money than any of the parties had suggested in their arguments. We assume that it was a good verdict for Frank Galvin’s client.

My Dad used to close trials by tracing the roots of the words “voir dire” (the process of jury selection which means in French, literally, ‘to speak the truth’) and “verdict” (from the Latin word verdictum) – emphasizing that a search for the truth is the principle enshrined in our constitution (the Seventh Amendment) to hold wrongdoers accountable. From the beginning to the end of the trial, the central purpose is to find the truth.

Few cases actually make it to trial. Most cases are resolved short of a jury verdict (and many of those verdicts are appealed) but even settlements are informed by the minority of cases decided by juries.

We’ve seen a lot of jury verdicts over the last few weeks from different parts of the country. Juries are not meant to be monolithic. Each jury pool is supposed to reflect the demographics of that community. As such, the temperament and outlook of a local community will lead to varying results around the nation. The facts of each case are also different and, of course, different legal standards apply in civil and criminal cases. Keep all of these factors in mind when you see reports or opinions from talking heads about the righteousness (or lack thereof) in any particular jury verdict.