Unmasking Jurors’ True Selves


I’ve been summoned to appear for jury duty today at Municipal Court in Fullerton. Pardon my groan.

Not that I want to get out of it. It angers me when people try to avoid jury service, which I ardently believe is a duty of citizenship. It’s just that I was a juror on a lengthy civil trial four years ago and it wasn’t a pleasant experience.

Most of the trial was fine. But when the case reached deliberations, I felt like I’d been trapped at a John Birch Society retreat. Many of these pleasant jurors I’d been exchanging small talk with for weeks turned out to be rabid reactionaries. Some had deliberately withheld their true feelings about a person’s right to sue for corporate negligence. They knew if they’d expressed those views, the plaintiff’s lawyers would have bounced them off the jury.


There’s a common belief that selection of a jury goes on too long. California law changed a few years ago (via Proposition 115) to allow judges, instead of lawyers, to do most of the questioning of potential jurors. The idea was to shorten the process.

To me, it’s the one part of a trial that needs to be longer. I’ve seen this in my own experience as a court reporter.

A few years ago in Santa Ana, James Haigh was defending a young Latino man accused of a jailhouse beating death. I watched as Haigh exhaustively questioned a 30-ish woman who appeared to be a perfect juror. Finally, to everyone’s relief, Haigh ran out of questions and sat down. But he immediately sprang back up and said to the potential juror: “Is there anything at all I’ve failed to cover that might interfere with you being a fair and impartial juror?”

“No,” the woman said, “nothing I can think of. ‘Course, I don’t like Mexicans.”

This led to a lengthy discourse between the woman and then-Superior Court Judge Leonard McBride about what might have led to her racial bias. She was finally dismissed.

I had a friend who once told lawyers during jury selection that he didn’t think the district attorney would have let the case get to trial if the defendant wasn’t guilty. This is a type of bias that defense attorneys have to fight all the time.

But Michael Horan of Irvine, one of the county’s best criminal defense lawyers, says there’s an even greater issue: rooting out those who would be biased against a defendant if he chooses not to testify.


Horan agrees that more time should be spent on jury questioning. The new rule, he said, “hurts the D.A. too, because that side has got to uncover the weirdos who hate the police. On our side, we’ve got to find the right-wingers who would convict their own mother no matter what the evidence.”

Horan says he’s only looking for jurors who will give his side a fair shot, and not make up their minds until after he’s had a chance to present it. That doesn’t seem too much to ask.

Superior Court jury services director Sandra Vale says most people find that jury duty isn’t as unpleasant as they expected it to be. OK, I won’t groan. But I’ll take a book. My first experience taught me that you have to be good at waiting around.

Six for One? Don’t be surprised if you are summoned for jury duty. Orange County has an eligible adult population of just under 2 million, and the county sends out 600,000 jury notices per year. It takes that many prospective jurors to come up with the 100,000 needed each year to serve as jurors in civil and criminal trials.

Juror panels are chosen from a random mix of names from voter registration and Department of Motor Vehicles files. So don’t be surprised if you get called just about every year, Vale said.

Astonishingly--at least to me--about 22% of those summoned fail to appear. The typical cop-out excuse? “The summons was lost in the mail.”


Third-Hand Smoke? Ann C. Manley of Stanton says I didn’t go far enough last week in a column about the diminishing number of people willing to defend smokers’ rights. She makes some points worth passing on.

People who smoke outdoors, she says, are still creating a problem. Because they tend to gather right outside doorways where people go in and out. Says Manley:

“I, a nonsmoker by reason of severe allergy, gasp on the way out of my doctor’s office, on the way into the drugstore to buy my antihistamines, gulp a mouthful of smoke as I leave the mall. . . . It is hard to anticipate smoke fumes outdoors and equally hard to know how far the smoke has penetrated into the building.”

Manley says she gave up jazz clubs because of cigarette smoke. My guess is that jazz might be in her future soon. It won’t be long before they’re all smoke free.

If you work in, let’s say, a medical building, and you feel compelled to smoke outside on a break, maybe for the sake of others such as Manley, you won’t stand so close to the door.

Racing Cancer: Anyone applying for the next round of grants from the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation has until May 15 to present a proposal. Funding comes from last year’s 5K Race for the Cure in Newport Beach, which raised more than $400,000. This year’s goal is $500,000.


If you’d like to be a volunteer for this year’s run, call (714) 224-0299. The organization is looking for volunteers both for race day--Sept. 28--and for pre-race events.

Wrap-Up: Sometimes a helping hand comes from an unexpected corner.

Last week, I missed two columns following the death of my fellow Times reporter and dear friend Bill Billiter of Huntington Beach. His funeral was last Friday. At the Billiter home later that day, I held tightly to Suzanne, the oldest of his four adult children, as if letting go of her would be a final parting with Bill.

My family then spent the weekend with my wife’s parents, visiting from Minnesota and staying at a local campground. In its swimming pool, I tried without success to teach my 5-year-old daughter Becky to float. She told me:

“You don’t do this nearly as good as Grandma. But that’s OK, Daddy. You’re a good story-teller. You can’t be good at everything.”

It was the boost I needed to come back to work.

Jerry Hicks’ column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Readers may reach Hicks by calling The Times Orange County Edition at (714) 966-7823 or by fax to (714) 966-7711, or e-mail to