Tables Turned… A New Experience for This Attorney
By Susan D’Alonzo Ament
Recently, I was summoned for jury duty in the United States District Court. Not every person summoned to jury duty is selected to participate. During what is known as voir dire, the Judge and the lawyers for each side question potential jurors to determine any bias. Each side has a certain number of preemptory challenges, and an unlimited number of challenges for cause. A preemptory challenge allows a lawyer to dismiss a potential juror for any reason. A challenge for cause allows a party to dismiss a potential juror for possible biases.
Like many, I did not think I would be chosen. However, I was. Instead of being the attorney in the courtroom, I was now Juror Number 2. Over the years, I have heard others complain about having to serve on a jury, or sometimes ask how they could be excluded. The Jury Act allows courts to excuse a juror from service if summoned on the grounds of “undue hardship or extreme inconvenience.”
From my own personal viewpoint, I realize jury service is one of the most important civic duties you can perform. Though candidly, I was very concerned about being out of the office and absent from my clients for a period of time. I am honored to work with a really dedicated, caring team of personal injury attorneys, who also understand how important jury service is. My partners readily stepped in to help me and expertly cover my tasks. While I was out of the office for jury service, though I was not available during the day for two weeks, through technology I was able to email clients and follow-up with my own work every evening.
In the end, I was glad I was chosen to serve on the jury. It was a wonderful experience. I had the opportunity to learn about a whole new area of law I had never practiced, Patent Law. I heard talented expert engineer witnesses from all over the country speak about technology, inventions, and patent infringement. I was fortunate to view highly skilled legal teams for both parties. Each legal team utilized state-of-the-art technology in the courtroom while arguing their positions to the jury. Candidly, it was a whole new experience and change for me to be in a courtroom and be silent.
One of the most rewarding aspects of jury duty for me was meeting and getting to know my fellow jurors. We were a quite diverse group of all ages, from all walks of life, and from all three counties in Delaware.
As an attorney, I had previously heard stories that jurors may rush to judgment in order to be able to get out and go home. That was definitely not the case with our jury. Despite the fact that my fellow jurors were anxious to get back to their families and jobs, each person worked very hard to try and navigate through a myriad of highly technical information and evidence to try and reach a just consensus. After two days of diligent deliberation, we were not able to agree, despite how hard everyone worked. The Judge ruled a mistrial. In the end, all jurors exchanged email addresses and contact information and have kept in touch with one another. One young juror was concerned about being away from his employment for his two weeks of jury service. Federal Statute 28 U.S. Code Section 1875 mandates that no employer shall discharge, intimidate, or coerce any permanent employee by reason of such employee’s jury service in any court of the United States.
I will not be called to serve again for two years in Federal District Court under the Jury Act. I am grateful though for learning about an area in which I do not regularly practice, and for the new friendships I made. However, I am happy to be back to my comfort zone – helping clients who have been injured at work or in motor vehicle accidents.
Susan D’Alonzo Ament is a partner with Morris James LLP and has practiced for 30 years representing personal injury victims. Over the years, Mrs. Ament has found that some women don’t understand the crucial need to have adequate automobile insurance coverage in the event of a serious accident. Susan Ament educates women on these needs every day in her practice and in seminars that she presents throughout the year.