Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Jury Duty

So after 10 years of living in DC and being called for jury duty, the last two times, I actually got put on trials.

And based on those two experiences, I have to say there must be a lot of questionable lawyers in DC. The first case was someone who refused to move out of a house that was foreclosed and bought by someone else. The buyer sued the previous owner to evacuate the premises. The case left us jurors with more questions than answers. We ended up voting to evict the previous owner, but the new owner's attorney certainly didn't completely settle our questions. And if the previous owner had a better attorney, he may well have won. Or maybe lawyers in civil cases are so busy obfuscating the facts that they leave jurors full of contempt. Maybe the guy didn't have a case.

Now, this second case. A slip and fall. It ended up settled, so the jury didn't have to do a thing. Lucky for everyone. The case was pathetic. The cement stairs crumbled underneath the guy as he came down them and he broke his leg. Then he suffered an infection and had to have his leg amputated. The defense tried to throw up smoke screens. The man didn't have a great relationship with the mother of his children and they had lots of arguments. She swore out a warrant for his arrest, so the guy was dodging the police by going down those stairs. They also threw in the remote possibility he might be drunk. And that it was not well lit. They even questioned why he didn't come straight down the hill instead of using the stairs (because there was a 10-foot retaining wall. did they even do their homework?!) The question still remained: did the stair crumble? Pictures were taken, but we weren't shown them. And despite his possible shadiness, the fact remained: if the stairs were in bad shape, the victim could have been a 10-year-old running down them and having them crumble. So did they crumble? That's what we wanted to know.

The witnesses, including the plaintiff himself, were ill-prepared. The one witness we would have liked to have seen was only on videotape. Actually they should have had other witnesses, such as, oh, a building inspector, research on DC codes, etc.

The defense appeared not to have any witnesses. Not that we knew because they never presented. We spent more time staring at the walls in the jury room than in the courtroom. After the plaintiff rested, we erupted in the jury room with whaaaat the -----???? One very funny juror said, "I could have done a better job."

But we still felt sympathy for the guy and may very well have ruled in his favor, depending on the defense. But it wouldn't be because of his attorneys, who clearly did as little preparation as possible. It didn't even seem as though they had the plaintiff -- or his relatives -- review their own damned depos.

OTOH, I have to say the courtroom staff, judge and clerk, were wonderful in both cases. I rather thought the judge in this case was trying very hard to keep his temper in check. The previous case's judge was marvelously patient with the ineptitude. I wonder how much time these judges have to spend working through incomplete, shoddily put together cases.

And both juries I served on were full of amazingly smart people. It gave me faith in the people who actually serve on these things.

So if it isn't ineptitude, if it is just plain trying to hide facts from the jurors, dear personal injury attorneys, you're causing citizens to lose respect for you and your profession.

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