Making Jury System Work
Re “Everyone Into the Jury Box,” editorial, May 24: As small-business owners who recently concluded a successful defense in a lawsuit against our firm, we deem that there is more wrong with our legal system than the problem of getting jurors to serve. The jury candidates for this case also included a doctor who expressed the feeling that he should be excused because his time was more important than that of everyone else. His attitude was disdained by other jury candidates and by the court. However, by the time the trial finally ended, we came to believe his position had been valid.
It took six days to hear the testimony. Details presented as background, while important, had to be boring to those judging the case. Nitpicking by the prosecution protracted the testimony and threatened to obscure the substance of the case to the point of rendering any judgment arbitrary. The combined cost of the trial to our company, the court and jurors far exceeded the potential amount of any judgment. The inefficiency of using a panel of 13 or 14 people (including alternates) to assess arcane testimony in civil cases does not promote justice or a belief in the system. It makes us feel that jury service is something to be avoided and counters any inclination we might have to accept the financial burden of paying employees to serve as jurors.
I strongly disagree with your premise that the courts lack jurors. In fact, what they sorely lack is common sense in a system that has run amok. If only a fraction of frivolous lawsuits were eliminated, court congestion would be significantly diminished.
Then, perhaps, the physician you so blithely criticize could go back to doing some genuine good in the world, instead of helping judges and lawyers perpetuate their scam. The simple solution to the problem can be summarized in two words: loser pays.
As a physician I was amused by your comments on the doctor. I was on a jury task force a few years ago and encountered these same comments by all self-employed persons and professionals.
Many had an elitist attitude about how busy they were and how important they were for their patients and clients. When I was confronted with these comments, I asked what they did during their vacations, during an illness, when attending professional meetings or when deciding to attend their children’s activities such as graduations, recitals, ballgames, etc. They, of course, simply took the time off. Why not take the time to fulfill their citizen’s responsibility and civic obligation, as noted in our Constitution?
While on the task force I was able to modify the medical portion of the affidavit, so that physicians could no longer simply write an excuse for their patients without providing appropriate justification for this excuse, subject of course to penalties of perjury.
The year after this was implemented there were 50,000 fewer requests for excuses submitted. Physicians must realize how important their role is in this process.
Harry Shragg MD
I have an additional idea of where we might get some of the money to compensate jurors. When a plane lands it has to pay a landing fee, when a boat docks in a harbor or port it pays a docking fee. When an attorney brings a case to court, or threatens such action, a jury is required, yet that attorney has no requirement to pay toward the compensation of that jury. I think they should be charged a jury fee.
I don’t have the specifics of how this might operate; I just feel that it is an idea whose time has come. I do know that those funds should be used only to pay the jurors.
The state and county governments are running out of money, and this seems to be an easy way to help those governmental budgets. It’s time for the trial lawyers to step up to the plate and get a hit to help the entire system.
Leslie “Les” Spiegel
Channel Islands Beach