I believe in juries and the jury system. I believe in their ability to discern truth from lies, agreements from proposals, and legal duties from moral obligations.
For over a decade, as a civil trial attorney, I have had the opportunity to present cases to juries in Texas. When I started, I was a junior attorney for a firm that represented several big companies, whose risk managers routinely stated their desires to avoid juries at all costs. It was as if, although the general public was fit to purchase and use the company’s product, the average consumer was not fit to decide the right and wrong of the claims involving it. Though the company ran extensive marketing studies and consumer product surveys, it acted as if the jury box would be filled with space aliens with whom the company and its employees would have no connection.
Recently, I defended a wrongful death case involving a large corporation. Some five years after the man’s death, following every bit of legal wrangling the parties could muster, the case proceeded to jury trial. The jury listened to two weeks of testimony from the widow, the company employees, the witnesses, and the experts on various topics, deliberated for four hours, and ultimately ruled against the widow and the family. The company’s directors were genuinely surprised, after having nightmarish visions of huge bags of money being carted away and their employees’ heads on pikes, they couldn’t believe that a jury would decide the case fairly.
Our jury system harkens back to old English times, when it was decided that having some twelve assorted individuals from the community would safely decide disputes, and no one would be able to improperly influence them all. Juries preclude governing majorities, red or blue, from controlling justice in both private disputes and in criminal trials. Juries, as opposed to arbitrators, avoid the sort of pay-for-justice schemes that so many foreign jurisdictions seemingly embrace. There are countries where individuals cannot get a jury trial, and, rest assured, many people do not want to live there.
Before I became an attorney, I thought that aged powdered-wigged men in robes were the embodiment of justice. I thought that truth and law dwelled in the tomes and stacks of huge libraries. I was wrong. Law, equity, and justice lie in the unified statement of randomly collected citizens.
The power of a person’s voice and their beliefs are heard in the jury box perhaps more than anywhere in public life. Although juries may have twelve discordant voices in the parking lot, they speak in harmony at court. I’ve won and I’ve lost, but I’ve never seen the jury get it wrong. While at times I have lost faith in the legal system, and often lost faith in my own role in it, I have never lost faith in the power and accuracy of the jury. It is the true jealous protector of the rights of our people. This I believe.
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