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“All rise!” – Lessons learned in a jury box May 5, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Meghan Hamilton @ 12:51 am

This week I appeared as summoned to my local courthouse for jury duty.  Book and bottle of water in hand, I arrived prepared to wait as I have in the past.  The previous time I was called, they placed me on a Grand Jury.  It was interesting work deciding if a criminal case should go to trial.  Most of them did go to trial, though I don’t follow court reports to know if the defendent’s were ever found guilty or exonerated.  I would imagine most of them were found guilty as the District Attorney’s office generally brought us cases that included quite a bit of incriminating evidence.  But I digress.  This post is about this week’s civil case.

After we were all checked in, we were brought into an empty court room to be presented a video about jury duty.  All Massachusetts jurors see this video.  It was nice to see that there is a new one.  Our county has two court houses on the property, and the other one needed jurors, so they took twenty of the sixty of us over there.  I remained with the other forty. 

In MA, the jurors are preassigned random numbers, so they call up people in numerical order to fill the box.  As the judge weeded out those with a good reason not to be there and sent them home, the box filled.  Once there were twelve people willing and able to stay, the defending attorney requested that several of the older women be dismissed.  I don’t know if the judge was required to comply, but he did.  That brought me into the box.  Both attorneys were satisfied with my presence and eventually we had twelve acceptable jurors. 

As we listened to the case, several things went through my mind.  First, “Why are we here?  The Plaintiff has no evidence on which to base her claim.”  As I mentioned above, this was a civil trial.  A woman was seeking monetary damages from a man (Man A) her husband (Man B) had issues with and who subsequently dragged her into the dispute.  She was claiming emotional suffering and wanted money to compensate her for the suffering. 

In a nutshell, the dispute over some money had gone on for some time between Man A and Man B.  She claimed to have no knowledge of the dispute until much much later.  As the dispute went on, each man claimed the other would drive by his place of business yelling, “F*&% you!” and flipping the bird.  Mind you, at the time, both men were about 50 years old. 

As years went by, yes years, the acrimony rose.  Finally, Man A got so frustrated and fed up that he took to carrying a black permanent marker around with him and writing on men’s room walls from Chatham to Fairhaven (for you non-Massachusetts readers – that is over a 60 mile route) during his travels.  He would write what you might expect in a men’s room message.  “For a good time, call Mrs. B at ###-###-####.”  Sometimes the graffiti was very graphic and included things Mrs. B might like to do for fun.  Use your imagination.  I don’t need to repeat it word for word here.  He claimed he thought the number was Man A’s business number and no one else would pick it up. 

As a result, this woman, Mrs. B got a series of phone calls from men looking for a “good time.”  These occurred over about a six month time span before one of the police departments caught wind of it due to his repeated visits to one bathroom in particular.  They successfully prosecuted him for malicious destruction of public property.  Shortly after the police found him out, he stopped his scribbling on bathroom walls and the calls stopped coming in to Mrs. B.

So – during this time, she never sought any help or evaluation of the anxiety she claims to have experienced upon receiving approximately 15 of these calls.  They didn’t change their number.  They didn’t put a block on private calls until after Man A had been identified as the author of the graffiti.  (The caller ID always said, “private.”)  She never missed work.  No one came to the trial to testify to the level of anxiety they saw in her.  No one from work came to say she was making mistakes or doing her job less well than before it all started.  No friend came to say that she had expressed a high level of anxiety.  Her own husband had little to say about how anxious she was.

Let me assure you, dear reader, that I am not unsympathetic to this woman.  I believe she may have suffered some anxiety over this.  But the law was pretty clear about the grounds upon which we were to find in her favor.  She didn’t meet the criteria.  There was no legal reason to grant her money.  Maybe there should be criminal law that pertains to writing someone’s name and phone number in such a manner.  Maybe there is and it wasn’t pursued (I am not a lawyer, so I don’t know.). 

What is the lesson here?  If you have been hurt in some way, please get to a doctor.  At the very least, go to your primary care doctor and get it on record that you have some sort of problem.  No matter how embarrassed you are at the time.  No matter how scared you are at the time (in cases of rape or domestic abuse and the like).  No matter how trivial it seems at the time.  You will have little to go on later should you decide that you want to pursue legal action for the wrong done to you if you can not document that you suffered an injury, be it a black eye or an anxiety attack.  Get it on record so someone can verify you were hurt.

The other lesson?  Massachusetts is awesome in that a plaintiff is not allowed to specify the amount of money they would like to receive when asking for compensation.  If we had found in this woman’s favor, it would have been up to us jurors to decide how much money she deserved.  If more states adopt this sort of law, perhaps we will see a reduction in the number of outrageous claims in the millions of dollars for things that most people would not think warranted that sort of money.  I wonder if the woman who received $5 million from McDonald’s a few years ago after getting burned by coffee would have gotten that much money had the jury been able to set the dollar amount. 

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3 Responses to ““All rise!” – Lessons learned in a jury box”

  1. […] you read my post about jury duty and you know my life with my husband, you may wonder why I didn’t find in favor of the […]

  2. Tim Schaffer Says:

    I’ve never gotten jury duty! Well, I suppose I technically did once, but that consisted of calling in on a Sunday night so that a recording could tell me they didn’t need my civic participation.

    • In MA, we can be called every three years. They claim it’s a lottery type system and it’s supposed to be random. So I must be very lucky as I get called even more often than that.

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