“Understanding Juries”

I have just attended a State Bar of Texas seminar on “Understanding Juries.” At the program, there was a mock trial presented to a mock jury to help us (the attendees) better understand how juries think and analyze cases. The case presented dealt with a manufacturing business (the plaintiff) that was having financial difficulties when it suddenly burned — with one of the contractors killed at the origin scene of the fire. The defendant insurance company had denied the claim for the loss submitted by the plaintiff/business, contending the building burned as a result of arson, and the decedent was the actual arsonist hired by the business owner. The insurance carrier contended the decedent was paid not for consulting work, but was paid to burn the building down, and unfortunately got caught up in the fire he started. Both sides were ably represented by Texas lawyers and each made comprehensive, compelling presentations for their respective sides. The real interesting and educational portion of the program occurred when the mock jury retired for deliberations. The deliberations were broadcasted back into the seminar room, and the jurors’ focus on the emphasized points and the subtle points reminded all of the attendees at the seminar of the value of performing a focus group/mock trial in cases that justify the study. In this mock trial, the jurors vigorously argued the strengths and weaknesses of each presentation. They combed through and frequently referenced the evidence given to them to consider. More importantly, they speculated on issues not addressed (and no doubt never thought of by the advocates), but these issues became extremely important in reaching their conclusions. These issues would certainly be addressed in the next presentation (presumably the real trial).

Also, the importance of the jury foreperson cannot be overemphasized. The foreman in this case

controlled the discussion and order of discussion. For example, following the first vote on the first jury question (which vote was not unanimous), the foreman put those who opposed his vote in the position of explaining their position to the rest of the group. Those jurors in the minority, who were not very articulate, had no persuasive ability to change any opposing votes to their side. Those who were more articulate could not overcome the momentum of the majority, and in the end, the jury felt the fire was started by an arsonist and did not award the plaintiff any money. But the attendance at the seminar was worth the money.