In this Friday’s Five, I discuss why people should be more open to attending jury duty.  I sat for jury duty this week, but was dismissed after vior dire.  I’ve served on two juries prior to this, and maybe it is the litigator in me, but I’ve found the process fascinating.  Also, I’m tired of people complaining about the crazy jury verdicts they hear about, and then I ask if they have very been on a jury.  The typical response is that they have been successful in getting out of service.  My response then is for them not to complain about the results if they are not willing to participate in the system.

Jury duty is a great learning experience.  Plus, if you ever find yourself in litigation, you will want an impartial jury to help hear your case, so consider paying it forward in case you ever need the system.

Finally, I discuss employer’s obligations to allow employees to attend jury duty.  Additional information about the law regarding employee’s leave required to attend jury duty can be found in my prior post.

Stay dry out there California.

I had the pleasure of serving on a jury here in Los Angeles this month. It was a criminal case that lasted about one week. From a litigator’s perspective, the service was very interesting, and very informative. Here are a few lessons I picked up from my jury service:

  1. Lawyers need to keep their cases short, sweet, and interesting. Our case did involve some science, and the lawyers lost some of the jurors. At one point, a jury actually went to sleep and started to snore. Whose fault was this? The lawyers, and in no way to I fault the other juror because I was feeling the same way. Courtrooms are very drab places without windows. Add a lunch to the equation, and there is no doubt that jurors would rather be taking a nap than hearing an expert try to explain the science behind blood alcohol content for a third time.
  2. The jurors were very attune to credibility issues. I thought that I was the only one to notice some credibility issues with certain witnesses given my litigation experience. However, during deliberations almost every other juror picked up on the same cues I did in determining who was telling the truth.
  3. It still is a chance to leave your case up to the jury. You never know what evidence a jury will find persuasive.
  4. I have a new found respect for the system. I was very impressed with the sense of obligation the other jurors felt towards doing what was right in the case. Everyone listened to the Judge’s instructions and did their best to reach an impartial conclusion.
  5. Don’t avoid jury service. I hear it all of the time, “Our legal system is broken, something must be done to fix it.” Our Founding Fathers ensured that we always had a way to fix a broken system, and that is why they wanted a jury of one’s peers to resolve disputes. It is a great way to keep a check on the government overzealously prosecuting citizens or a way to make sure a frivolous lawsuit in civil court ends in the best way possible. In addition, if you are selected to serve on a jury, it is actually very interesting to see the case play out, what other jurors found persuasive as evidence, and to reach a conclusion with your fellow jurors.

As long as employers are given reasonable advance notice, employees are entitled to take time off to serve as a juror or as a witness if subpoenaed to appear at trial. Employers may not discriminate or otherwise punish an employee for taking time off to serve as a juror or a witness.

Pay During Jury Duty:

Unless a union agreement or contract provides otherwise, you are not required to pay non-exempt employees for time not worked due to jury service. However, due to the prohibition against discrimination against employees who are subpoenaed or called for jury service, employers should have a jury duty policy that is consistent with other policies for taking time off due to non-personal, non-voluntary reasons. In the case of an exempt employee, the employer must continue to pay the full weekly salary unless the jury service prevents the exempt employee from performing any work for a full week.

Many employers voluntarily pay full or half wages for a specified period of time, such as a maximum of two weeks, to employees who are selected to sit on a jury in an effort to raise the quality of juries by expanding the pool of people who are able to serve. As with all policies, whether employers choose to provide paid or unpaid leave, it is important to have a clear policy that is uniformly enforced.