“How jury duty almost turned me into an anarchist”

Matt Welch’s experience being called for a civil jury [Reason] I, and this site, get a mention; I’ve had multiple reports of people bringing my books with them to the courthouse so as not to be picked for a jury. And I wrote for Reason about the jury selection process a while back.

More: In a followup post, Welch quotes passages from my 2003 article and confirms that, alas, the same practices are going on today, at least in New York City: the rigorous exclusion of jurors with any expertise or familiarity with difficult technical issues, and independent-minded people likely to be “thought leaders”; the avid efforts to plant preconceptions about the facts and issues of the case and extract individual “promises” of favorable votes, with no judge present; and so forth. There were hopes the round of reforms introduced by then-Chief Judge Judith Kaye some years back would clean up New York’s awful voir dire (jury selection) process, but clearly it hasn’t. Much less nonsense tends to go on in jury selection if the judge is present, and a key to the awfulness of New York voir dire — and its empowerment of lawyers — is the judge’s absence. Plus: Ilya Somin weighs in.


  • ‘sfunny how experiences can be so different sometimes. I was called for jury duty twice in the years we lived in Manhattan, and my experience at Foley Square was nothing like Welch’s. But I do agree that the best advice is to bring a good book – and patience.

    btw, I was actually selected for one jury – a personal-injury, civil case. I was astonished because I was a senior exec at a local insurance company. The case had barely begun when the parties settled. So not only did I get my certificate, the entire jury was dismissed early. Lucky day.

    But I left the courthouse wondering about something and my question is still unanswered. First, background: The defendant was the City of New York. The plaintiff was a former employee who had sustained a neck injury at work. The attorney for the City stated the City did not contest its liability for reasonable medical expenses but objected to the amount the plaintiff was demanding. Of course, the plaintiff appeared in court wearing the largest neck brace I (or likely anyone in history) had ever seen. The first witness was the plaintiff’s chiropractor who listed the numerous treatments he had given the plaintiff. When the City attorney had her turn, she asked the chiropractor “Have you been paid yet?” The plaintiff’s attorney immediately shouted “objection” the Judge immediately said “sustained” and without any apparent surprise or annoyance the City attorney proceeded to her next question. But within a couple of minutes, plaintiff’s lawyer asked to approach the bench; the jury was sent to the jury room and ten minutes later the jury was dismissed because the parties had settled.

    My question: why was the City attorney’s question disallowed? It seemed relevant to me, i.e. did the chiropractor have more than a purely professional reason to “help” his patient come into a lot of money. Anyone know?

  • […] Walter Olson of Overlawyered fame came up in conversation. In response, Olson informs us that A) "I've had multiple reports of people bringing my books with them to the courthouse so as not to […]

  • I’ve been called a few times but never made a jury, I guess because I’m a civil injury lawyer’s worst nightmare.

    I’m an engineer, my wife is an RN, I’ve been in 4 fairly severe auto accidents without injury, and I worked for 2 years as a Med-Surg-Orthopedic orderly in a hospital (setting up patient traction among other things).

    Next words I usually hear are “Juror Number 5, you are excused.”

  • I’ve always wondered why juries can’t be selected from volunteers. The last time I was called, I told the constable that as long as I had taken the day off, go ahead and let me be on a jury. He said it had to be random.

  • The biggest surprise to me was that the NY jury selection process was done outside the presence of the judge.

    I live in Wisconsin. I have been call for jury duty exactly once and went through the selection process though I ended up getting eliminated. The selection process was done in front of a judge and in fact the judge asked most of the questions.