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Judge gets view from other side
Glade Roper finally gets his wish to serve on a jury panel
I have wanted to serve on a jury all my adult life.
As an attorney and judge I have participated in over 300 jury trials but never as a juror. I voiced my desire to serve on a jury to dozens of people and all of them gave the same response, essentially, “You will never be kept on a jury.” Recently, that proved to be false.
Since becoming a judge 22 years ago, I had been summoned for jury duty 10 times. Each time I eagerly anticipate the designated date. Seven times I was informed by a recording the night before that I would not be needed. The two times I did appear I was not even selected. The tenth and last time I stumbled on the courthouse steps the day before the summons arrived and tore my quadriceps tendon. This required a surgical repair which took me out of work for eight weeks. The jury commissioner kindly called me the day after my injury to inform me that she heard about my injury and had removed me from the list. I begged her to put me back in the hopper after I healed.
Three months ago I received another summons and prepared to appear on the designated date. The week before I was to appear for jury duty the supervising clerk came and implored me to request a deferral because the other two judges in my courthouse would not be at work the following week, leaving no judges to handle the calendars. I resisted, saying that if I expect other citizens to appear for jury service, I must be ready to serve. I finally relented and authorized her to contact the jury commissioner to request an extension, which was readily given.
The new summons arrived, but two weeks prior to my scheduled date one of the judges underwent surgery and once again the supervising clerk came to ask if I would consider seeking another extension.
“Absolutely not,” I replied. “I have already requested one extension and our policy is to only grant one request to reschedule. I should not be treated any differently than anyone else.”
After sitting in the jury assembly room for an hour, a group of us was summoned to Department 1, which I knew to be a civil department. I was excited, as I had assumed that I would be sent to a criminal trial. Much to my delight, I was selected to fill the seat of the first person excused. I happily took the chair as “juror number 11.”
My plan to keep the other jurors in the dark was foiled because both attorneys were from outside the county and did not know me. Knowing my responsibility to give them full information, I had to introduce myself as a judge and detail all my associations with people with legal training, including my wife, a lawyer; my son, a litigator in Colorado; my daughter, a law professor and my son, a law student.
It was a personal injury case so I also had to mention my son, a radiologist. My hopes began to sink as I thought about how these associations could be fodder for dismissal from the jury. Four times the attorneys looked directly at me and said, “We would like to thank and excuse juror number . . . .” As I prepared to stand and exit, they continued, “three.” Juror three was sitting directly behind me, so I remained.
I was shocked when the judge asked the remaining 12 jurors to stand and be sworn and I was still in the box. At the break I hurried down to the administrator’s office and asked them to contact my courthouse and have them begin arranging coverage for me for the next six days.
Jury service was everything I hoped it would be. We had battling medical experts, conflicting testimony and vigorous advocates on both sides. I was disappointed when the plaintiffs’ attorney accused the defense attorney of “deception, delay and denial,” which I thought was unprofessional and catty. I thought the defense attorney attacked minute differences in testimony with undue zeal, wasting a lot of time. I had to restrain myself from ruling on objections when they were made. My sense was that jurors understood the proffered testimony, whether or not the objection was sustained.
On the whole I was enthralled with the testimony and the drama of the trial as I took careful notes and attempted to sort out the facts. After so many years on the bench, it was hard to not be in control.
As we shuffled out of the courtroom after closing arguments, I felt foreboding as I considered the evidence. I felt that the plaintiffs had grossly overvalued the nature of their injuries and was concerned that the other jurors would be prepared to give them the hundreds of thousands of dollars they asked for. I was nervous about how to voice my opinion without being overbearing.
In the jury room I declined the election as foreman, asking the other jurors to select someone else. The young man next to me asked what being foreman entailed, and I convinced him that he would do fine.
I was concerned that my fellow jurors might give undue weight to my opinions and determined to allow others to speak before I did. Much to my delight they began to mention all the inconsistencies, weaknesses and contradictions I had picked out of the plaintiffs’ case.
They caught the examining doctor’s mention of the heavy calluses on the hands of the plaintiff, who was supposedly unable to work, with his determination that they were caused by “heavy, arduous labor.” They brought up her vacations to the Bahamas and Hawaii within six months of the accident, even though she testified that she was in constant pain and could not even ride in a car.
They carefully considered the competing testimony of the doctors who predicted whether or not the plaintiffs would need future knee and neck surgery. All of us dismissed outright the testimony of the defense “hired gun” who testified that even if the surgeries helped the plaintiffs, they were unnecessary. I ended up saying very little except “I agree.”
I was proud to be a member of this very diverse jury, with people of many different sizes, shapes, colors, backgrounds, experiences and personalities. We did not unanimously agree on everything, but everyone was respectful of all opinions and listened to every viewpoint expressed. We gave the plaintiffs less than they requested, but what we thought was fair.
The initial discussion about how to compensate for pain and suffering centered on a low figure, even lower than I had considered giving. I needn’t have worried about the jury reaching an excessive verdict. When someone pointed out that the defense attorney had suggested more than we were considering for pain and suffering, everyone decided that if the defense thought that figure was fair, it must be and we reached a figure over double what we first considered.
I suspect that the plaintiffs left unhappy, but I left feeling energized and thrilled at my experience. It was everything that I think a jury should be.
My faith in the jury system is renewed and I left with admiration for my fellow jurors. They were polite, attentive, open-minded and thorough in their consideration of the evidence. The personalities of the attorneys and witnesses had very little impact on the decision; it was based on the facts.
I hurried back to my courthouse to hear three short-cause civil trials in the afternoon, with very fond memories of my experience as a juror.
Judge Glade Roper serves as a Tulare County Superior Court judge assigned to the Porterville Courthouse. He has been a judge for 22 years.