December 24, 2003


The beatitude excuse.: Judge Not, All Ye Faithful (Dave Shiflett, December 23, 2003, National Review)

Religious folk looking for a way to get out of jury duty may have been handed one by an unlikely ally in civic sloth: trial lawyers. According to a new guidebook for the plaintiff's bar, trial lawyers are advised to be wary of potential jurors with "extreme attitudes about personal responsibility." These jurors, the guidebook counsels, often reveal themselves by chatting up "traditional family values" - values that reflect "strong religious beliefs." If you want to get off the hook, chant a beatitude or two. That may well do the trick.

The scoop comes from journalist Jeff Johnson, who reports that legendary attorney David Wenner penned the warning for Litigating Tort Cases - known by some as the Shakedown Artist's Bible.

"It is helpful to divide the jurors into two groups: the personal responsibility group and compassion-altruistic group," Wenner writes in the guidebook. "Jurors who are extreme on the personal responsibility bias, or who have a high need for personal responsibility, will strongly
favor the defendant. In contrast, jurors who are extreme on the compassionate-altruistic bias, or who have a high need for compassion, will strongly favor the plaintiff."

One doesn't often find deep philosophical insight among trial lawyers, but here their insight is profound, even if accidental.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 24, 2003 7:47 AM

This happened to my father once. He was slated for being on the jury for a rape trial. When it came time for the lawyers to challenge (they were allowed up to three exclusions apiece), the D.A. and the defense counsel were in a quandary. As a Jewish professor, my father was originally tagged as a "compassionate-altruistic". But his answers to the examining questions put to jurors were, to put it mildly, not according to type (he is a strong advocate of the death penalty, despises the Miranda verdict, etc., etc.). Both of them were obviously puzzled when they looked him over. In the end it was the DA who excluded him from participation in the jury; evidently having a Jewish college professor juror was too big a risk, no matter what his opinions might be.

Although my father was relieved to be excluded from what promised to be a time-consuming and exhausting trial, he went home disgusted by the entire process. "They were just playing a numbers game!" he said of the trial lawyers. This episode occurred several years before the O. J. Simpson trial.

Posted by: Josh Silverman at December 24, 2003 9:55 AM

This is why juries should be larger, say 16, drawn by random, possibly 100% agreement not entirely necessary... tout fini.

A doctor is on trial and you got screwed by a doctor? Great. Then you can speak quite eloquently on the topic. There's 15 other people to backstop your outrageous opinions if necessary.

Posted by: Andrew X at December 24, 2003 10:00 AM

If our jury selection system is an affront to many of us "personal responsibilty types" (because it seeks to exclude those most likely to appreciate the pain a party may have inflicted, or at least, balance it), consider how much more "affronting" the "fairness" of trial by the International Court. For example, to the Left's legal elite, the only "fair" way to try, say Saddam Hussein, is to have a panel of judges whose life experiences would have made them completely insensitive to anything Saddam could have perpetrated on his own people. That is fairness.

Posted by: MG at December 24, 2003 10:13 AM

Mr. Judd;

Isn't that just the Daddy vs. Mommy issue again?

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at December 24, 2003 10:15 AM


Freedom vs. Security...

Posted by: oj at December 24, 2003 10:31 AM

My father wouldn't mind being on a jury, but he's been the first guy challenged by the tort plantiffs every time he's had jury duty.

Male, middle-aged, WASP, accountant, executive for a hospital.

Posted by: John Thacker at December 24, 2003 11:44 AM


Patients vs. nurses.

Posted by: Peter B at December 24, 2003 12:53 PM

This sort of denies the concept of objective justice, doesn't it?

Anybody, other than Andrew, got a subsitute to offer?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 24, 2003 1:04 PM


Who's ever claimed that human justice was objective?

Posted by: oj at December 24, 2003 1:09 PM

To OJ's point, if "objectivity" were the objective, or even a principal aim, we would have computers on the jury. I think our forefathers' notion of jury of our peers must have wisely assumed our peers would bring into the judgement a level of familiarity that would make objectivity impossible. However, it would bring anything else, from cold, calculating knowledge to warm, fuzzy empathy.

Posted by: MG at December 24, 2003 1:53 PM

Alright! I knew there would be a way to get out of my upcoming jury duty in January!

Posted by: The Wife at December 24, 2003 2:05 PM

Then why do you lawyers call juries triers of the fact?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 24, 2003 8:01 PM

Nostalgia, Harry, nostalgia.

Posted by: jim hamlen at December 25, 2003 11:55 AM

I used to think it was my fault for being 'personally responsible'. But now, I blame my parents.

Posted by: Noel at December 26, 2003 1:37 AM