Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : June 2005

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WHERE IS MARYLAND'S JURY HEADED?

What Do Jurors Really Think?
By Janet Stidman Eveleth

What do jurors really think about jury duty? During a March 29 Bar/Bench jury symposium, four “real” jurors shared their feelings, experiences and perspectives on jury duty. All recently served in Baltimore City and considered the process to be fair and their treatment respectful. However, they found the condition of the juror facilities “deplorable.”

As a group, they agreed the judge offered clear and concise updates and kept them “abreast of things.” They formed opinions of the attorneys during opening statements and generally felt both counsel represented their clients well. They wonder why they are summoned every year when their suburban friends are not, and they do not like the “waiting” periods that accompany jury service, especially in “that juror’s room.”

At the March 29 “The Maryland Jury: Today and Tomorrow” symposium, sponsored by the Council on Jury Use & Management, the Maryland Defense Counsel and Maryland Trial Lawyers Association, Deborah Mitnick, James Camp, Susan Clayton and Jane Shaab were featured on the “juror’s view of jury service” panel. All of these city residents had served as jurors: three in criminal trials and one in a civil trial.

The first concern was the fact that each receives a summons every year. “This is the 14th summons I have gotten and I no longer look forward to it,” lamented Mitnick. “I usually don’t mind, but I get called so frequently and it is mundane to sit there and wait,” Camp stated. “I am self-employed and it is hard for me to be off of work because there is no money coming in when I am not working,” asserted Clayton. “Long cases bother me; I dread it,” she added. “I’m called once a year and it’s hard missing a day of work, but I think it is important to go,” declared Shaab.

Most were not questioned extensively during voir dire, though one voiced concern over announcing personal information in an open courtroom. They rated the attorneys high on opening and closing statements and felt the trials were “faster than I expected.”

Several jurors expressed concern that the witnesses in their trials were not adequately prepared or managed by counsel. As a group, they found the proceedings were “highly repetitive and could have been better organized” and felt the “same points were driven over and over again.” They also believed there were too many expert witnesses.

The panel of jurors did not care for the gaps in action when counsel and the judge whispered during bench conferences, and they really disliked the long breaks where they were “stuck for hours at a time in the jury room.” One juror felt the lunch break was “way too long” and grew frustrated to “resume action and get it over with.”

The jurors agreed they would have liked to have been more active participants in the trial. “I wish I had had the chance to ask questions when things weren’t clear; we needed to hear the judge’s instructions as a refresher,” stated one. “It was very difficult understanding the words and terms; we need simple, commensurate terms,” offered another. “I wished I had a notebook so I could take notes,” added another.

The juror serving on the civil, medical malpractice trial had much to share with the audience. “I regretted the issue of caps,” lamented Mitnick. “I did not know caps existed in the system or what we could award. My jury received no instructions on what the law is on this; the system seemed dishonest to us. We agonized over a decision on caps, finally agreed on a figure and learned it was a totally useless exercise. This was extremely upsetting.”

In several of the criminal trials, jurors felt “it was pretty clear that the defendant was guilty and had a very strong consensus to this effect, but there was not enough evidence for a guilty verdict.” One juror was “very uncomfortable walking right in front of the defendant as he paraded over to view an evidence exhibit. “He eyed each one of us and we were nervous.”

The jurors found “talking and listening to one another during deliberations to be very helpful in eliminating pre-conceived notions” and generally felt this was the “most rewarding part of the experience.” According to one juror, “a number of people didn’t listen to things, so our discussion helped.” The judge helped clarify issues and points, too, which they appreciated.

The biggest deterrent to jury duty in the City, in these jurors’ opinion, was the “deplorable conditions of the juror facilities and the depressing, gloomy environment of the City’s courthouse.” They found it to be “crowded, hot and downright uncomfortable.” “No one was courteous; the other people there and the court staff were most discourteous,” one juror complained.

“That jury room is painful, and it makes jury duty painful,” objected another. “A quiet room where it is actually quiet would be great,” suggested a juror, “because right now no one supervises this room and it is beyond noisy.” They agreed that the whole atmosphere “does not parallel the seriousness and importance of jury service. It really needs to be improved, and someone should improve the pay for jurors, too.”

Overall, this panel of jurors enjoyed the experience once they were there, and the trial went fast (even if the time did not). They would have enjoyed it a great deal more had there been better conditions and improved facilities. All of them felt they were doing something important, found the trial fairly interesting, tried to do the right thing in their deliberations and took their responsibilities as jurors quite seriously. These jurors support jury service, even though it is “inconvenient.”

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: June, 2005

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