“Good Luck In Hell”: Jury Abuse Ethics

12 angry men

 It’s not nice to be mean to juries.

More than that, it’s democracy self-abuse. Juries are the fractals of true democracy, played a crucial role in the intellectual germination of our founding documents  and are as important to the United States’ ideals and core beliefs as any institution.  Citizens contribute their time—okay, some need a little persuading—to take on the massive responsibility of life altering decisions, and despite their fallibility (and look at the rest of the government!) jurors deserve honor and respect.

For lawyers and judges to behave otherwise is not just foolish, it is prohibited by their respective professional ethics rules. Charles Guiteau, who shot President Garfield, was briefly a lawyer. He used to climb into the jury box to yell at jurors. That got him kicked out of the profession, so he moved on to shooting Presidents, which he was better at.

It’s even unethical to berate a former juror, as small firm New York attorney Frank Panetta of Massimo & Panetta  discovered when all of his ethics alarms malfunctioned simultaneously and he sent off the following masterpiece to Lauren Curry, the senior partner in another firm. Panetta is still steamed about a case he lost when a jury found against his client four years ago, and he blames Curry,  who served as his jury’s foreperson. He wrote in an Guiteau-like e-mail, and I swear, I’m not making this up:

ALL THESE YEARS LATER I WILL NEVER FORGET LAUREN THE LIAR.

After numerous multi-million dollar verdicts and success beyond anything you will ever attain in your lifetime, I will never forget you: the bloated Jury [Foreman] that I couldn’t get rid of and that misled and hijacked my jury. You lied, said you had no involvement in defense—no biases. It was all bullshit. You deprived a very nice lady, [Patty] Hartman, from recovering in a smoking gun liability case. You either had no idea of what the concept of probable cause meant or you misled the jurors because you were defense oriented. You rooted for the underdog, a totally incompetent corporate counsel, outgunned and stupid. I will never forget the high-fives after the trial you tanked[,] between you and a clueless [corporation] counsel. “I feel attacked.” Well you should get attacked you A-hole.

Good Luck in Hell.

I’m pretty sure the reference to “high-fives” between the jury foreman and the winning lawyer is metaphorical. That would be stupid on the part of both lawyers, probably grounds for an immediate mistrial, and discipline for the corporate counsel, and maybe the lawyer-foreperson too. Jurors are asked if they know either lawyer, and can’t serve if they do. A display that suggested deception or collusion would trigger serious consequences. I would be interested in knowing  what this sentence in the e-mail refers to.

It should also be noted that it is Panetta’s fault if he lost because of a lawyer on the jury. Lawyers do have disproportionate influence in a jury room, for obvious reasons. If they are objective, as I was when I was on a civil jury, they can be a great help. If they are willing, lawyers will often be elected foreman (also as I was), and then have the job of explaining what just happened in the courtroom. Most lawyers automatically disqualify lawyers from jury service, because they want to be the jury’s guide, not another lawyer after the trial. When Panetta allowed Cuury to serve, he took a gamble that she would tilt the jury toward a favorable verdict for his client. Oops. The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/ Gang aft agley. Get over it. You’re supposed to be a professional.

The specific rules provision violated by all this venom would be “conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.” Panetta has been publicly censured for harassment of a jury foreperson by the New York Appellate Division for the Second Judicial Department.

Good.

The next act in the Jury Abuse Follies is Ohio municipal court judge Amy Salerno, who berated a jury for finding a defendant not guilty in a recent trial in Columbus. Judges are required to be neutral arbiters of law, and conduct suggesting otherwise is a clear judicial ethics breach. Four  jurors reported that the judge came off the bench and told them that 99 percent of the time juries get the verdict right, but thanks to them,  it was now down to 98 percent. (That’s even worse math than it is judicial ethics.) She then told the shocked jurors that their foolish verdict didn’t matter, because the defendant had other charges pending and that she would see to it that he was punished.

That’s obviously not going to happen: she has been forbidden from presiding over any future proceedings involving that individual. She should also be prevented from future proceedings involving any individual. She’s an untrustworthy and unethical judge. The first two Canons of the ABA’s Model Rules of Judicial Conduct should suffice to make the case:

CANON 1
A judge shall uphold and promote the, independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.

CANON 2
A judge shall perform the duties of judicial office impartially, competently, and diligently.

Bye, Amy.

Salerno, a former state representative, is  up for reelection in November.  When will the states finally figure out that electing judges is a terrible idea?  She has apologized, by the way, with a rotten, non-apology apology. (Extra Credit Assignment: rank it on the Ethics Alarms Apology Scale) She wrote:

“I was deeply surprised by the jury’s verdict in this case, and failed to contain my surprise. I am deeply sorry if my words in any way have offended. I can appreciate how they may have been taken in some other way.”

Was she drunk when she wrote that, or is that her usual caliber of thought?  What “other way”? Other than being  offensive? Other than a reprimand of the jury for a verdict she didn’t like? Does she really think there’s an apology buried in that mess?

_______________________

Facts: ABA Journal, Res Ipsa LoquiturAbove the Law

6 thoughts on ““Good Luck In Hell”: Jury Abuse Ethics

  1. Your post has persuaded me to re-think my support for electing judges. Actually, I have been re-considering the wisdom of electing judges for some time now. If there are enough ethics-impoverished voters to secure tenure for so many of the ethics-impoverished politicians we are all learning about who live, oppress, and so manifestly mal-govern in our midst, then there is no sense in letting those same voters elect judges, either.

    But then…for as long as such voters continue electing such politicians, there is also no sense in allowing those same politicians to appoint judges-for-life.

    At this point, our country and all its jurisdictions might have better chances at hiring good judges – who are term-limited, not judges-for-life – by simple lotteries. But then, who will run the lotteries? More tyrants-for-life? We can’t win. We are doomed.

    • Check out judge amanda williams (note lack of capitalization) of Georgia. She destroyed my friend’s business, and essentially his and his wife’s lives. More than 40 years of grueling toil running a watermelon and trucking company single-handedly. Working in fields, and doing all mechanical work on his trucks, well into his 70”s. All down the drain due to the greed and nepotism of this piece of worthless shit.

  2. I’d say that was a very sloppy #9 apology. Not enough effort to be a #10.

    She can appreciate how her words may have been take in some other way?
    So…did some of the jurors complain they thought her words meant she was taking them on an all expense paid trip to a five star resort to a destination of their choice for a job well done?

  3. After my one and only experience with jury duty, I’m convinced that the jury selection process is antiquated and draconian. I was ripped from my very busy life, working hard to make an income that is but 10% – 20% of what judges and attorneys make. I was ordered to report during the worst possible time in my work-year. Upon arrival I was pushed into a crowded room where a bailiff (quite literally) yelled threats at us. Threatening us with jail time and fines if we showed up late or were absent during the assigned time. We were forced to reveal embarrassing details of our personal life during questioning. The judge gave numerous threats if we failed to comply with their questioning. But, we were not instructed in any way about how to be a good juror. We were simply impaneled immediately after questioning. During questioning, they said the trial was expected to last 3 to 6 weeks. During questioning, I stated that I was in the middle of a critical project at work and being away from that would jeopardize the business. Both attorneys and the judge ignored that. Throughout my experience, I felt like a criminal defendant would receive better treatment than the jurors. In this age, the court could implement a system where jurors declare a year in advance when they can be available. Bailiffs could treat jurors like humans, or maybe even like valued assets. Judges could provide written instructions. I’m a civic minded, solid citizen, but if I’m never called again for jury duty, it will be my pleasure. With the attitude of the courts that jurors are free commodities to be berated, abused and discarded like last weeks trash, I’m in awe that every trial doesn’t end with juror misconduct.

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