My Mock Jury Experience

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A couple of weeks ago I got a phone call from a random number in Texas. Normally I don’t pick up the phone, but I did this time. At first I thought it was a scam and was kind of direct with the woman on the other end of the phone. She explained that she couldn’t tell me who was paying for the focus group to be formed, but that I would receive $250 for participating. So of course I said, “Sign me up!”

When I got to the hotel I was asked to sign in. Then they ushered us to a room that was filled with pastries, coffee, and good company, as I visited with the other people selected to participate. Then there was a gentleman that came into the room and explained what we would be doing that day. At this point, we were sworn to secrecy regarding any of the details of the case that was being presented to us. Also, I plan to stick to that promise and won’t reveal any of what I know about an actual pending lawsuit here in our county.

Next we were taken to another room, where the plaintiff’s attorney spoke to us for over two hours laying out all the details of the case. The attorney used video clips of interviews with people, contracts that had been signed, and pictures of the subject to give us a better storyline and perception of the situation at hand. At times, he was very emotional and almost had me getting choked up.

After this we were given lunch and told not to discuss the case with any of the other participants. This was tough because at this point in time, I had already taken four pages of notes with questions that I wanted clarified before making a decision of who I felt was at fault.

When we were finished with lunch, we were ushered back to the attorney’s room where we then heard from the defendant’s attorney. Basically the other side of the story was offered, with some additional details and pivot points for those of us in the “mock jury” to consider. Another four pages of notes were written, but I would never have the opportunity to ask those questions, because after the defendant’s attorney spoke, the plaintiff’s attorney got back up and refuted each of the points that the defendant had made.

Now was the time for us to meet as a jury and decide on the case. There were 30 participants in all, which were split into two groups. In order to come to a consensus, we had to have at least 12 jurors agree. This was not an easy task for the group that I was put in. While being recorded, each of us were allowed 2 minutes to go around the room, sharing our thoughts, and finding points that we could all agree on. Often jurors would be interrupted, either with other jurors agreeing with the points that they were making, or asking questions for the juror to clarify what they meant. In the end, exactly 12 jurors came to consensus, while several were left feeling as though their voice didn’t matter.

This experience was eye-opening and gave me a better look into the decision making process that juried lawsuits go through when considering cases. The lawsuit that I learned of still may go to court, but as the moderator explained, the result of our decision that day could be what determines an outcome for this case and it won’t be brought to trial.

Political threats are real, and I’ve heard it firsthand

With the tragedy that our country has just witnessed from the shooting at the baseball game in Virginia, it has reminded me of a letter I wrote that was published in the Kansas City Star from when Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot while in her district speaking at an event at a grocery store. Thirteen were shot and nine were killed, including a federal judge and a nine-year-old child. Much of what I had to say then, I believe, is still pertinent to today.

This letter that I wrote originally ran in the January 12, 2011 edition of the Kansas City Star –

All over America, people spent last weekend in shock over the senseless murder of six people and the wounding of another 13 in Arizona. It was heartbreaking to read quotes from the family of victim 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green that said she was excited about the political process.

Unfortunately, the political process is ill.

In the last election cycle, when I ran for state representative, I received several threats of gun violence on the campaign trail. The most serious involved a municipal elected official in my area. On the day of the primary, I went to a polling location in my district where I stood and greeted individuals as they left the poll after voting. A municipal elected official heard me speaking with another individual about labor issues as he left the poll with his wife. He became very hostile with me and claimed that he would do whatever possible to see that I wasn’t elected after hearing my support for workers.

A police report on his side of the event states: “According to him they argued … until she asked if he was going to hit her. His reply was, ‘No, but can you outrun a nine millimeter?’”

To me, this was a threat and I was concerned enough to go to the police. But I didn’t draw attention to these incidents during the race. My point in sharing this story now is not to rehash the campaign. I want to offer a specific local example of violence in politics. We would like to think that the vitriol is only a part of the national political scene, however, it made its way to Johnson County, Mo.

I believe we have a responsibility to ourselves, Democrats to Republicans, conservatives to liberals, to respect our democracy and political process as well as each other. Our political environment has become more and more hostile. The unseen victims of the current chaos are all of us. Constructive debate is overshadowed by cheap slams and dishonest robo calls.

Not only does it cost us respect for our neighbors, it crowds out the reason needed to solve our collective problems and make coherent decisions about the future.

We can commit to civility. We can be an example of faith in the democracy that has guided us to being the greatest nation on earth. Just as the mother of the young girl who lost her life last weekend pleads, “I just want her memory to live on because she was a face of hope … a face of us coming together as a country to stop the violence and hatred and the evil words.”

Click here for more information, including the police report on this situation, thanks to the folks at ShowMeProgress. 

And click here for a follow up of what happened after the letter was published.