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Friday, January 25, 2013

Jury Selection in Mattapan Massacre Case

Starting in the summer of 2012, I was retained by attorney John Amabile to assist him with jury related issues in the retrial of Dwayne Moore, accused of killing four people and seriously wounding a fifth in a drug-related shooting in Mattapan, Massachusetts (a neighborhood of Boston). One of the victims was a two-year old boy and the victims were marched outside naked before they were shot, execution-style. Needless to say, the case engendered an enormous amount of publicity.

One of the initial co-defendants cut a deal with the district attorney's office, in return for his testimony. This man, Kimani Washington, testified at the initial trial, in February of 2012, that he had left the scene before the shooting started and pointed the finger at Dwayne Moore. The jury in the initial trial hung with respect to the murder charges against Moore (11-1 as it happened), resulting in a mistrial. Mr. Moore was retried starting in October, 2012.

Given the emotionally charged and continuing media coverage of the case, Mr. Amabile was able to successfully move the Court to award funds to cover the cost of a jury consultant to assist with jury selection and other matters. With Judge Locke's order, Mr. Amabile was in a position to pay me with funds from the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS).

The case was fascinating in many respects. Between the two trials, Marcus Hurd, the lone surviving victim, claimed to have experienced an epiphany with respect to his ability to identify the shooter (He had not done so at the first trial). There was a hearing about this, where his former fiancee contradicted his testimony about being able to make an ID. The judge ultimately allowed him to testify about this at court, but then the D.A. opted not to ask him to do so. We successfully moved for a change of venue to escape the Boston media market, so Judge Locke decided to select a jury from Worcester County (which turned out very much NOT to be outside the Boston media market) and bus the jurors to Boston every day for trial. We successfully petitioned the court for individualized, sequestered voir dire, as well as a supplemental juror questionnaire (SJQ) to be completed by every prospective juror. As a result, the jury pool was questioned to a degree probably unprecedented in the criminal courts of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Jury selection took two weeks.

In early January, I was interviewed by Corine Claxton, the co-host of Mass Law Radio ( and @MassLawRadio), which airs weekly on WCUW in Worcester (, about my participation in the Mattapan Massacre case. The 1 hour interview has been divided into two parts, that aired on January 18th and 25th respectively. It was a wide-ranging discussion of juror psychology, deliberation dynamics, handling pretrial publicity, the role of a jury consultant, the effects of racial diversity in criminal cases and many other topics.

Listen to Part 1 of the interview by going to

Monday, October 08, 2012

Samsung Hard-pressed to Get Second Bite at Apple

Samsung Digs Up Grounds for Appeal

This past week, it was revealed that Samsung had filed an appeal of the verdicts of of patent infringement in the celebrated case filed by Apple. Given the enormity of the verdict and its potential consequences for Samsung's ability to compete in the mobile phone and tablet market going forward, no-one is surprised that an appeal was filed, and filed quickly. What has surprised some is the grounds for the appeal: namely that at least one juror in the case was guilty of misconduct. Much of the focus has been on the jury foreman, Velvin Hogan, against whom Samsung has lodged two major complaints.

First, Samsung argues that Hogan failed to disclose his part in a lawsuit against his former employer, Seagate Systems (Samsung is the single largest shareholder of Seagate). Hogan's defense to these charges is that he answered every question truthfully on his written questionnaire and during voir dire. The questionnaire only asked about litigation participation in the past 10 years (Seagate case was 10 years ago). During voir dire, when asked to volunteer experience with litigation, Hogan raised his had in the affirmative. Samsung's lawyers then questioned him about the first lawsuit he mentioned. They neglected to ask him whether there were any additional cases to discuss and moved on to the next juror. Samsung's position seems to be that Mr. Hogan had an affirmative obligation to alert the court to his Seagate lawsuit, notwithstanding the fact that no-one asked him about it.

The second complaint against Mr. Hogan, and potentially a few of his fellow jurors, is more interesting from a doctrinal pespective. Samsun argues that Mr. Hogan acted as an unsworn expert witness, by bringing to bear during deliberations his own knowledge of computer technology and patent law.

Does "Impartial" Mean "Stupid"?

At the risk of honking my own horn, allow me to quote an email I sent to my TrialGraphix colleagues on August 27, immediately after the first interview with Mr. Hogan was published:

It is worth checking out this brief article about the engineering and legal expertise of jurors on the Apple-Samsung jury. As a general rule, jurors are not permitted to act as "unsworn witnesses" bringing to bear personal experience and expertise during deliberations. The line defining what it permissible is, of course, quite fuzzy. But there is quite a bit of appellate law on this matter and verdicts have certainly been reversed for less than appears to have taken place in this instance. I am considering writing a blog post on this topic, with an eye towards having something topical that could be distributed to potential clients.
Well, OK, I admit my horn is a bit tarnished, given that I didn't get around to writing that blog post until now. But I'll give myself a wee pat on the back for seeing this coming.
The appellate law on this topic is not really in Samsung's corner. Let's consider a few things working against the appellant here.

First, almost every opinion regarding prior  juror knowledge affecting deliberations begins with some language about how jurors "are not required to leave common sense at the courtroom door, nor are they expected to lay aside matters of common knowledge or their own observations and experience of the affairs of life, but, on the contrary, to apply them to the facts at hand, to the end that their action may be intelligent and their conclusions correct." (State v. Jennings, supra, 125 Conn.App. at 811). As such, the fact that some of the jurors, residing in Silicon Valley, knew something about technology and patent law does not preclude them from rendering an impartial verdict.

To hold otherwise would require absolute ignorance among jurors. Henny Youngman's old joke about "12 people too stupid to get out of jury duty" would be painfully true and officially endorsed by the judiciary. Judges have not been willing to go quite this far. It has been a difficult tight rope act to preserve the illusion of an impartial jury as one comprised of "impartial jurors."

Samsung Needs to Look in the Mirror (or Facetime with itself)

Second, the attorneys in this case were given the opportunity to both submit and evaluate a supplemental juror questionnaire (SJQ) and partake in attorney-conducted voir dire. It appears that these methods did elicit quite a bit of information about all of the prospective jurors. That said, the jury was ultimately chosen in one day, with each side only having 20 minutes to conduct voir dire after the judge had concluded her questioning.

Samsung appears to have dropped the ball when questioning Mr. Hogan. To be entitled to relief, they would have to argue that, but for the time restrictions on voir dire imposed by the court, their lawyers would have uncovered Mr. Hogan's dark (and prejudicial) past. In addition, I imagine Samsung would have to show that the time restriction was imposed over its objections.

As one of my colleagues replied to that initial email, "I think Samsung should sue its jury consultant."

Has Samsung Finally Invented Something New?  

Third, almost all of the appellate decisions reversing a verdict on the grounds that a juror acted as an unsworn witness involve criminal cases. While the stakes were certainly very high in this case ($1 billion plus effects on future competition), the courts typically treat a criminal matter as qualitatively different, in that a person's liberty is in jeopardy. The seriousness of a conviction, embodied in the elevated burden of proof, carries over to "miscarriage of justice" analysis that follows a conviction. There are scant appellate opinions in civil cases in support of Samsung's position. In fact, acursory search hasn't turned up any. Certainly, all of the cases I assign in my law school seminar, "Trial by Jury," on this topic involve criminal verdicts.  

This is not to say that the lessons from the criminal arena cannot be applied to a civil case. Only that a judge who wants to distinguish this case from others where relief was granted will have an easier time doing so, due to the derth of applicable civil cases.  

It's not like the jurors were drunk or high  

Fourth, the issue of jurors serving as unsworn expert witnesses straddles the border between "extrinsic influences" on jurors and "internal thoughts processes" of jurors. To the extent that a court views this as a question of internal jury decision-making and deliberations, FRE 606(b) (and the state equivilants) preclude asking jurors to testify on the question. It seems impossible for Samsung to make its case that some jurors improperly influenced the verdict without digging into the deliberations themselves, a topic that is verbotten under 606(b). The court would have to determine that this juror expertise is an "extrinsic influence" to open up Pandora's box. Clearly, appellants have cleared this hurdle in a few criminal cases; it remains to be seen whether Samsung can do so in a civil matter.  

It should be noted that the courts have found creative ways to construe things as instrinsic (cocaine use, sleeping, drunkeness, mental retardation) in order to avoid authorizing hearings about jury deliberations to impune verdicts. A judge who wants to dodge this issue can certainly find precedent for not interpreting what happened in the Apple-Samsung jury as an "extrinsic influence."  

Verdict 2.0?  

From a doctrinal perspective, I think that Samsung is on shaky ground and its appeal is a long-shot. That said, this area of law is sufficiently squishy that a creative judge could probably find a way to grant Samsung's appeal if she wanted to. But, in the U.S., what judge will really want to? Apple is the darling of U.S. industry. Without Apple, Google (and arguably Microsoft), it feels as if the United States has ceded technological production (if not innovation) to other countries. While a judge would be unlikely to admit that she wants Apple to win this one, any social-psychologist will tell you that judges aren't immune to implicit bias any more than the rest of us.  

The breadth of the verdict does seem to be a bit extreme. Apple was granted ownership over every single aspect of its product, including the "rounded rectangle" shape. I would not be surprised to see some appellate court limit the scope of the verdict and reduce the damage award dramatically. If this happens, however, it won't be because someone on the jury claimed to know something about patent law.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Federal Courts Address Wave of Online Jurors

This past week, the new model jury instructions about online research and social media communication by jurors were released. You can read the new instructions here. While they are quite explicit and forceful, they are weak on an important element. Research into the effectiveness of limiting jury instructions has shown that such instructions can only work if jurors are given a rational (but not condescending) explanation for why the instructions are in place. This is why instructions to disregard evidence of a lie detector test (the science is just not very reliable yet) tend to be heeded, while instructions to disregard evidence from an inappropriate search (Well, you see, we have this thing called the 4th Amendment...) tend not to be.

Other courts have fashioned instructions regarding online activity by jurors well before the Federal Judiciary got in the game and some of these earlier instructions are frankly just better, particularly with respect to explaining why information obtained from outside sources is inappropriate to use. I particularly like the combination of patient explanation and forceful admonition embedded in the New Jersey model instructions. You can find these here.

While the problem of online activity has gotten more serious and more prevalent in the past few years, mostly due to the proliferation of high speed internet access and smart phone usage in the population, the issues remain very much as they were when this problem first reared its ugly digital head. I wrote a somewhat speculative post about this topic back in 2009 and the themes I covered still resonate today.

Take a look.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Remedy for the Googling juror? Just ask!

Jurors swarm the net

Recent entry for the smallest surprise of the year award: jurors are online.

Everyone is online. So, of course, people summoned for jury duty are, too. Jury duty can be very tedious. There is a lot of sitting around waiting for things to happen. The local sports page can keep you occupied for only so long. So, whip out your iPhone or Blackberry and see what's what. Google the defendant. Google the lawyer. Google the judge! Post a tweet (Most juror posts run along the lines of "I'm stuck on jury duty and boy am I bored.").

The problem has become so prevalent that there was a front page story about it in today's New York Times. So, what are we going to do about it?

Anyone who understands psychology at all knows that the solution is NOT to take away juror's toys and slap their hands with rulers if they disobey. We know from decades of research about judicial instructions (particularly the limiting kind) that judicial admonitions without proper reasoning tends to incite "reactance" on the part of jurors. That is, when jurors' freedom to act is taken away by the court, those jurors tend to rebel and engage in the prohibited behavior more than had they not been warned in the first place. So, the key is to accompany whatever solution is chosen with careful, logical and respectful explanations to the jurors.

With these considerations in mind, there seem to be fairly straightforward solutions to the two main types of juror internet activity that concern lawyers and judges.

Juror Tweeting and Blogging

There is nothing wrong with a juror wanting to chronicle her experience on jury duty. The problem is when she posts her experiences while the trial is ongoing. Outgoing messages don't pose too great a risk of contaminating the trial, unless one is concerned that the desire to post something sensational will cause the juror to alter her behavior in the jury room. The bigger problem is the possibility that such posts will generate online responses, providing the juror with extra-legal contact with facts and opinions not in evidence. Another emerging problem is the ability of an attorney to read the posts of jurors in her own cases during the trial.

General pre-trial jury instructions and those ever-entertaining "What is a juror?" videos should be edited to make it clear to those called for jury duty that they are not permitted to post information about their experiences online until after their service has ended. These instructions should make it clear that this prohibition is consistent with the one against discussing a case with others. My educated guess is that most juror bloggers do not realize that their behavior is inappropriate. Very few people need to blog so badly that they will do so after being told by a bailiff not to. These instructions should also make it clear that jurors are, of course, permitted to write whatever they choose about their experiences after their jury service is over.

Online research by serving jurors

Six hundred years ago this would not have been a problem (not just because there were no computers). During the early period of the Anglo-American jury system, jurors were selected from the locality of an alleged crime or dispute precisely so that they could come to court with local knowledge about the events in dispute. If the jurors did not feel that they understood the case well enough, they were expected to investigate it on their own! They were to ask other villagers about what they saw or heard. There were rarely witnesses at trial, so the jurors had to be "self-informing."

Well, we have now almost come full circle. We live in a world full of people skeptical of the motives of everyone involved in the law. We don't trust the parties. We don't trust the lawyers. We don't even trust the judges to be impartial anymore. Given the instant availability of information online, it is no wonder that jurors are tempted to "fact check" their cases on Google. In a recent Florida case that resulted in a mistrial, the judge discovered that a juror had conducted unauthorized online research. He then voir dired the rest of the jurors to find out who had been exposed to what this juror had found out. To the judge's amazement and horror, he discovered that eight other jurors had also conducted research online. He had no choice but to declare a mistrial.

What should we do? Well, first of all, every single judge should pre-instruct every single jury not to conduct online research. Such an instruction must be accompanied by a well-crafted explanation of why such a rule is necessary. Second, lawyers should do their homework. If the attorneys in a case cross all their t's and dot all their i's, they can substantially reduce the temptation for jurors to look elsewhere for answers. Do some pre-trial research. Find out what is likely to matter to jurors. Find out what is likely to confuse them. Give them the answers they need.

This brings me to a procedural "innovation" that I think can mitigate the temptation for jurors to conduct unauthorized online research. More and more jurisdictions allow jurors to ask questions of witnesses during trial. Judges should not grudgingly accept this intrusion into their total control of the courtroom. Rather, judges should welcome this as an opportunity to satisfy the curiosities of jurors within the confines of the courtroom. Better to let the parties address jurors' questions during the trial than risk those jurors searching for answers elsewhere.

So, at the same time that the judge tells the jurors not to consult any outside sources regarding the trial, she should encourage them to bring any outstanding questions to her attention. The message should be "We are here to help you make the best-informed decision possible. We'll get you the answers you need."

I think that jurors who hear that message will be more likely to stay off google during trial. Afterwards.... well, that's another topic for another day.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Will Wonders Never Cease?

Jury Consulting in Criminal Cases

Traditionally, only a select few criminal defendants have employed jury consultants. Those who have typically fall into three distinct categories.

1) Really rich people and celebrities (who are usually really rich). These folks can afford to hire the most expensive lawyers and also pay for a variety of trial support services. If ever you needed proof that jury consulting is valuable, pay close attention to the fact that every criminal defendant who can pay for it does pay for it.

2) Accused murderers facing the death penalty. Because judges receognize that the stakes are very high in capital cases, as well as the particular stress on jury selection created by the death qualification process, public funds are most likely to be awarded for jury consulting services in these cases. The presumption is that the jury consultant will be used exclusively for jury selection (now that change of venue motions have become essentially hopeless).

3) White collar criminal defendants. OK. This is really a subset of the really rich people, but the issues are different enough to warrant its own category. Unlike the washed-up actor who strangles his girlfriend, the corporate accountant accused of cooking the books is facing a trial that feels somewhat more like a civil trial. The case revolves around money and common business practices. The victims are often also rich and generally no violence was involved. Defendants in these cases tend to employ jury consultants for a variety of services, from thematic development to witness prep to pretrial jury research to jury selection.

What about the Little Guy?

But what about the people who could use our help the most? What about the indigent criminal defendant with an overworked, underpaid and inexperienced and/or jaded public defender? Do these folks use jury consulting services? Well, the answer used to be a resounding "no" but the landscape is changing.

Despite the wording of the Massachusetts statute regarding the allocation of funds for trial support services, which authorizes funding whenever a similarly situated non-indigent defendant would be willing to pay for the service, the Massachusetts courts have been loathe to even consider paying for jury consulting services. Part of this reluctance stems from the way in which such funds are allocated in Massachusetts. Most public defenders are actually "bar advocates," private attorneys who sign up to get assigned cases involving indigent criminal defendants. The state agency that oversees this process, the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) has a budget, but no authority to spend any of it on trial services. Each attorney must petition the court for the authorization to hire a psychologist, investigator or expert witness. Given the very modest budget for CPCS, combined with the fact that no judge knows how other judges are spending the money, the judiciary as a whole tends to be very stingy for all but obviously necessary expenses.

As I reported in this blog a few years ago, the attorneys for Neil Entwistle, whose case received non-stop pretrial publicity for months leading up to trial, petitioned the court for $1,000 for help from a jury consultant in crafting voir dire questions. The judge denied the request without argument or comment. The default position is clearly, "No dice!"

The good news is that the dam is starting to crack. Over the past few years, attorneys have successfully petitioned the court for small sums of money to retain my services. I lowered my hourly rate very dramatically in order to increase the likelihood that such petitions might have a chance. Recently, I accepted a position with TrialGraphix, a large, national litigation consulting firm. I could no longer work the CPCS cases for peanuts. While management at TrialGraphix was willing to let me work these criminal cases at a substantial discount, a court was going to have to authorize real money to pay for my services.

Recently, I was approached by an attorney concerning a criminal matter for an indigent defendant. I explained that he would have to submit his motion with my new hourly rate. In addition, the case is very complicated and the attorney needed help with several jury-related matters. So, he was going to have to ask for a pretty hefty sum -- several times more than the court had ever awarded me before. We held our breath -- and the judge said "OK."

Perhaps the judiciary is finally becoming enlightened with respect to the difficulties confronted by those facing jury trials for serious criminal charges. Maybe the judge wanted to cover himself against a possible appeal. Maybe I have now developed enough of a track record that judges take these motions seriously. Whatever the reason, I can now say to anyone representing an indigent criminal defendant in Massachusetts, "Don't assume that you can't hire a jury consultant to help you." The door has been opened; it's time to walk through it.

What the Future May Hold

I am less familiar with how funds are allocated for jury consulting services in other states. I know that most states have real public defender offices, with discretionary (although small) budgets. In such a system, court approval is not required to pay for support services. Massachusetts is moving in this direction, which might provide further momentum for these efforts.

I have worked for the Federal Public Defenders Office in Boston and they only require internal authorization to pay for my services. I bill them just like a regular law firm. I can only hope that the CPCS system will evolve into something closer to this model.

A criminal defense attorney whose motion for funds for jury consulting services has been denied need not despair. I have written in this blog many times about the Pro Bono Initiative of the American Society of Trial Consultants (ASTC). I remain the Chair of our Pro Bono Committee and we are more committed than ever to making jury consulting services available to those representing clients of limited means.

Earlier this month, I connected a non-profit legal aid organization in Chicago with a ASTC member consultant to help with thematic development and jury selection. When it was determined that they needed help with graphics and video editing, we found another ASTC member to help with that. So, if you need help, please don't hesitate to contact me or visit the Pro Bono Committee's homepage.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Exciting News!

Dear Followers of the The Jury Box,

It is with great excitement and anticipation that I write today to tell you all that I have recently accepted a position with TrialGraphix, the nation's premier full-service litigation consulting firm. The company website can be found at

TrialGraphix, as its name would imply, is known for unparalleled design and execution of courtroom graphics and animation. Many of you know my views on the importance of visual learning among jurors, so I am thrilled to be associated with a firm at the cutting edge of that field. Now, I can not only make recommendations to my clients about demonstratives, but I can offer those clients the talent and resources at TrialGraphix to make those demonstratives come to life.

TrialGraphix is also at the forefront of trial technology, providing the expertise and technical solutions for any litigator's courtroom needs.

Of particular interest to me -- and you, too, I hope -- is TrialGraphix's long track record as one of the country's most respected jury consulting firms. One reason I agreed to join TrialGraphix is the tremendous respect I have for the jury consultants who are already there. I can't wait to work with them and to introduce them all to you.

For those of you who have worked with me in the past, rest assured that I remain committed to serving the needs of my existing clients. I will be running the jury consulting practice in the New York City office, which is a big change for me, but I will be in Boston often. This position provides me with the best of both worlds: the opportunity to continue to serve my New England clients and the potential to help future clients all over the country.

Since I have subscribers to the Jury Box from all over the country (and even other parts of the world), I want you to know that there is probably a TrialGraphix office near you. The company has offices is San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Minneapolis, Miami, Washington and New York. By all means, feel free to contact me directly with any jury issues that come up, but know that we have experience working in every state.

I plan to continue to publish the Jury Box Blog in much the way I have always done so. I apologize for the recent dearth of posts, but I have been quite busy preparing for my new job. I expect that the logo will change to reflect my association with TrialGraphix, but otherwise it will remain pretty much as is. I hope to get some of my new colleagues to contribute guest posts for time to time, especially in the courtroom graphics and trial technology fields.

Thank you all for your continued support of the Jury Box Blog and, by all means, look me up the next time you are in The Big Apple!


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Who should sentence Tarek Mehanna?

Today, Judge George O'Toole holds a hearing to determine the appropriate sentence for Tarek Mehanna, the Sudbury man convicted in January of providing material support to Al Qaeda and seeking terrorist training in Yemen.

Read the Boston Globe story about the sentencing hearing here.

This case is fascinating on many levels and I have written multiple blog entries about it over the past two years. (Find Jury Box Blog posts on the case here). The jury determined that posting pro-Al Qaeda material online could constitute "material support" and that the dangers associated therewith overrode any Free Speech protections. It is important to remember, however, that Mr. Mehanna never raised a finger in violence against anyone. He gave no money to our enemies and his support for jihadist violence was equivocal, at best. So, what kind of punishment is appropriate for his crimes?

The defense is asking for a lenient sentence of fewer than 7 years in prison. The prosecution, however, is seeking a sentence of 25 years. Since federal sentencing guidelines are no longer binding, the judge will have a great deal of discretion over Mr. Mehanna's fate. But should he?

One of the fundamental rationales for using citizen juries in our criminal justice system is to allow them to serve as the "conscience of the community." Unlike the judge, who is embedded in the governmental structure for life tenure and who can be removed from "the word on the street," jurors are living in the community, with experiences that better reflect shared values about public safety, culpability and morality. Nowhere is this more strongly reflected than in the absolute right of the jury to nullify in the rare instance where justice and the law do not correspond.

It is odd, then, that our system has evolved so that jurors are asked to determine guilt or innocence and judges are asked to determine sentence. (Capital punishment offers the best known exception to this allocation of responsibilities.) This arrangement really handcuffs the ability of jurors to exercise their duty as the conscience of the community. We provide them with the most blunt instrument available, a simple "yes or no" vote on the defendant's guilt. Where there are multiple charges or lesser included offenses, jurors are afforded slightly more flexibility to craft a verdict that reflects their evaluations of the defendant's culpability.

The real discretion sits with the person who decide's the defendant's sentence. Ultimately, the sentence is the person't fate. The jury's verdict on guilt only hands off this decision to the judge.

I can think of no case that better illustrates the wisdom of allowing jurors to decide sentencing than that of Tarek Mehanna. There is a wide range of available alternatives. Reasonable people will certainly disagree about which sentence would be best, as well as what opportunities Mr. Mehanna should be afforded to reduce his sentence through good behavior or restitution. One's judgment regarding what punishment would be most appropriate in this case comes down to an evaluation of the defendant's culpability and how much danger his actions created. Given the uniqueness of this case, the multiple issues that need to be considered and the diversity of opinion in society on these issues, the final disposition of this case could certainly benefit from a lively and representative deliberation.

The rest of the world will view Mr. Mehanna's sentence as a reflection of our society's values and priorities. Maybe we should structure our system so this would actually be true.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What's brewing with Tea Party Jurors?

But What About my Needs?

Back in the fall, I was running focus group research in an undisclosed location, in preparation for an undisclosed case, scheduled for an undisclosed trial date. (See how I did that? I just made my completely mundane case seem much more interesting by refusing to tell you anything about it.) Truth be told, the case details are irrelevant for the purposes of this post, except for the fact that it involves a consumer protection dispute.

I always have my focus group participants complete an extensive written questionnaire before the study begins. Think of the supplemental juror questionnaire (SJQ) you'd use if you were arguing your case before a really enlightened, curious and slightly whimsical judge. It's kind of like that. The general information section contains pretty standard stuff about occupation and home ownership, mixed in with the usual pot porri of inquiries about tattoos and home schooling.

As I was finishing up the questions for this section, I noticed I had some white space before the next section on "Experience with the Legal System," so I decided to add another question. "What do you think of the Tea Party Movement?" Mostly, I was curious about what people would be willing to write down about something that had engendered so much anger, confusion, frustration and passion in the general public.

I consider myself a pretty astute student of politics. I did teach in the Government Department at Harvard for ten years. I watch the Daily Show every night. I have bookmarked on my browser. But I have to admit that the Tea Party Movement has me stumped. It is easy to be really cynical about this group, blanketing them with a categorical label of "Angry Whackos." Such a characterization, however, would be dismissive of the very real appeal that the movement has for a lot of people. There has to be a "there" there; or, at least something that actually unites the people who identify themselves as Tea Party supporters.

From a professional perspective, it is even more important for us to get a handle on what is driving the decision-making of Tea Party sympathizers. Tea Partiers are active in politics. They register to vote and go to rallies, so we should expect them to show up for jury duty when summoned.

This begs the question: What will Tea Partiers do in the jury box?

Hell hath no fury like a Tea Partier Scorned

On the surface, a typical tea party juror looks pretty good for the defense. They tend to believe in personal responsibility. They are more likely than your average respondent to think that there is a torts crisis and that frivolous law suits pose a real problem. Tea Partiers object to many entitlement programs and believe that too many Americans expect a free hand-out at every turn.

At our study in October, we had one such participant. Let's call her Sally (not her real name). In response to the Tea Party question, Sally had written, "Actually, I think they're great!" During an early part of the study, when I had the moderator pose hypothetical scenarios to the group, to see how they perceived situations similar to what we faced at trial, Sally rolled her eyes at one point, saying, "Oh, she'll probably pick up the phone and call her lawyer. That's what's wrong with America. Everyone immediately thinks about suing somebody when anything goes wrong." At this point, Sally sure seemed like a good defense juror.

The problem with the Tea Party paradigm, however, is its profound inconsistency and hypocrisy. What seems to unite Tea Party supporters is a profound lack of empathy for people unlike themselves, along with an almost hysterical need to have their own grievances heard and attended to. As such, when contemplating a Tea Party supporter as a juror, it is absolutely critical to gather a great deal of information about that person's life to make sure that your case doesn't push any of their hot buttons.

Turns out Sally had a hot button. WIthout giving away too much about the case, let's say that it involves a relatively minor nuisance which the federal government had seen fit to penalize with extremely high mandatory civil penalties. As such, a thriving cottage industry has popped up of attorneys whose entire practice is to cobble together plaintiffs and sue under this one statute. After spending hours bemoaning the litigiousness of American society, Sally and her fellow respondents were finally introduced to the facts of our little case.

Well, wouldn't you know it, Sally had actually experienced the same problem as the plaintiffs in our case. Ironically, Sally had hired one of the companies who had inconvenienced her in violation of the statute and had been quite pleased with their work. Despite her prior rantings against suing in similar circumstances, and chiding from fellow respondents about the inconsistency of her position, Sally wanted to hang the defendants by their thumbs and drive them out of business. Sally constructed an entire fantasy about exactly how the defendant company operated, in order to justify her position that they, unlike the companies in the hypotheticals she had just finished discussing, deserved the most punitive treatment available.

Normally, this kind of argument would hold little sway with other jurors. The problem we faced in this case is that no-one else on the panel had any personal experience with the circumstances surrounding the case. So, while most subjects could easily dismiss Sally's arguments as convoluted, several were willing to defer to her on the grounds that she had relevant experience they did not. That is, Sally was a self-professed expert and that was enough for them.

Tea for Two

I found my experience with Sally profoundly troubling. Many commentators have discussed the erosion of empathy, civil discourse and reason-based argument in America over the past fifteen years. Clearly, this transition was manifesting itself in jury rooms, as well as campaign trails and voting booths. So, my Tea Party question became standard for all of my jury research. Just a simple question, "What do you think of the Tea Party movement?"

Just this past month, I ran a multi-panel focus group study for a case involving one of Boston's many universities. Again, without going into details about the case, I will divulge that the main witness for the defense was a very smart professor at the university. What makes this case potentially problematic, from a defense perspective, is that it is quite complicated and involves inner workings of a university with which most jurors will be quite unfamiliar. As such, the defense team wanted to make sure it could do a good job of getting jurors to actually understand how things work and who has responsibility for what.

We presented our treatment to the respondents and were pleased to see that, for the most part, they "got it." That is, we had done a good job of conveying a lot of esoteric and complicated information in a way that ordinary people could understand. As it turned out, however, we weren't out of the woods. There were two respondents who had decided that the university was not only wrong, but also evil and malicious. One of them wanted the university officials to be criminally prosecuted.

Reviewing their initial questionnaires, I didn't find any real red flags. They both have degrees from local colleges, although not particularly good ones. One is a payroll manager and the other is a "self-employed" ticket broker and "public speaker." The payroll manager, however, answered the Tea Party question, "They have some important ideas." I decided to dig a little deeper.

Both of these respondents listed Fox News as a major source for news coverage. They also both read The Herald, and not The Globe. In addition, our ticket broker is from Revere and the payroll manager is from Winthrop. These are two blue-collar, mostly white, communities north of Boston. They are also the only two towns in Suffolk County that went for Scott Brown in his Senatorial contest with MA Attorney General Martha Coakley. While Ms. Coakley won 70% of the vote in Boston, she won 46% and 44% in Revere and Winthrop, respectively. Confirming Senator Brown's appeal among blue-collar white voters, the only parts of Boston he won were South Boston, West Roxbury and the majority white neighborhoods of Dorchester.

One mainstay of the Tea Party movement and the Fox News propaganda is a rabid anti-intellectualism. They regularly vilify East Coast Liberal Elites and preach adherence to faith over science. Followers of this dogma are trained to be inherently suspicious of major research universities. Such universities are the homes of those perpetrating the global warming hoax and foisting evolution on unsuspecting school children who should be taught only creationism. In short, a professor at a major Boston university is immediately and automatically suspect, regardless of what he or she has to say.

Always Dig Deeper

In addition to asking about preferred sources for news, I ask respondents to tell me about social media usage. Our ticket broker has a Twitter account. He doesn't tweet much, but he did post extremely religious messages on Christmas. He follows both Scott Brown and Fox News on Twitter. In short, he is a Christian Conservative living within a stone's throw of Boston.

There were fewer overt signs of political preference for our payroll manager. I did, however, pull up her LinkedIn profile. After many years at the same company, she changed jobs last June. She lasted only six months at the new company and only found work at a third firm after a few months without a job. While we will never know exactly what happened that caused her to leave her new job after such a short stint, it is not hard to imagine that she had some sort of negative experience working there. Because Tea Party sympathizers weight so heavily their own experiences and concerns, her extreme negative reaction to our case might have been triggered by her own lingering hostility towards her last employer. They are a big corporation and a university is a big corporation.

Our ticket broker is obviously struggling to make ends meet. He has a college degree and thinks of himself as very intelligent and articulate. He would raise his voice to be heard and was the one participant who regularly cut people off or spoke over them. He had all the characteristics of an inferiority complex and could reliably be counted on to disparage the testimony of some fancy-pants professor.

Handling Tea Partiers During Voir Dire

If you practice in a jurisdiction with real attorney-conducted voir dire and/or regular use of supplemental juror questionnaires, you can probably tease out the tea party supporters. You can ask them questions about their experiences and make sure they have no negative associations with the topic of your case.

Life is much trickier in a jurisdiction with limited voir dire. Standard practice in Massachusetts, for example, is for the judge to ask all the questions, with limited input on question content from the attorneys. The main round of questioning is done as a group in open court, so all of the questions must be phrased to accommodate yes or no answers. The judge decides how deeply to dig into any topics at sidebar for any subsequent individualized voir dire and the lawyers are not permitted to speak directly to any of the prospective jurors.

One byproduct of this arrangement is that judges typically ask extremely direct and pointed questions, but not ones that a student of juror psychology would suggest. A Massachusetts judge would never ask a prospective juror about her views on the Tea Party unless the case were specifically about something a Tea Party leader had done. So, in a world of limited voir dire, it is very difficult to explore these tracers for attitudinal tendencies. And, without attorney-conducted voir dire, it is pretty much impossible to get information about attitudes directly. In short, we're screwed.

In the case involving the local university, we will try to use the demographic information to our advantage. We will keep an eye out for blue collar, white jurors, without major university credentials, from pro-Scott Brown communities. This is, unfortunately, a third-order proxy for what we really want to know about these people, but it is the best we can do in such a low information environment.

My main advice for anyone facing the prospect of Tea Party followers in the jury pool is to be extremely careful to identify them and gather as much information as possible. My experience is that such individuals can be unpredictable and capricious. Equally important, they like to talk and believe that what they have to say is profoundly important. One characteristic that seems to be shared by many Tea Party adherents is sense that their voice is not being heard by those in power. They are loud, persistent and desperate to be heard. As such, you must anticipate that a tea party juror will be an active juror, a persistent juror, and an incalcitrant juror. You had better know in advance exactly what they want and what their hot button issues are. If you don't I recommend that you burn a peremptory strike and move along to the next person in the box.