The sun was peaking over the horizon when I woke up. From the moment my eyes opened, I knew this day would be like no other. This day was to be truly my initial first-hand experience in the profession I have chosen.
Though it was to be a serious day in a series of serious days, my excitement had turned me into a bundle of energy. Fortunately, thanks to my cousin, David, I was able to expend much of this energy with an extended morning run.
My Uncle Mike and I (which, by the way, is not his real first name, but a nickname - long story) got to his office at around 8:30. He worked on a couple other cases for a while before we were to head to the courthouse at around 10 for jury selection.
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Secrecy is paramount in a civil case; even more so since our client -- the plaintiff -- is a minor. Beyond that, I really cannot delve into the specifics of the case. Technically speaking, most of it is protected under attorney-client privilege. As I am technically working with my uncle, I am bound by that as well. As you can see, it's quite technical!
The first order of business was for my Uncle Mike to meet with the respondent's attorney regarding a possible settlement. They've been discussing settlement possibilities for several months and, as it turned out there were no new offers, nor any new acceptance of the previous offer. We were to proceed with selecting the jury for the trial.
My uncle and I had studied the questions he was to ask potential jurors and how he wanted me to keep score. I would sit next to him at the plaintiff's table. We had two yellow legal tablets placed on the table between us; one placed at the edge of the table near us, and one toward the judge (or, "above" the first tablet). Both had notes scribbled on them, and each had a single word written and circled in the lower left hand corner. This was my uncle's idea; his game and teaching tool.
"Stanford" was to indicate yes and "otherwise" was to indicate no.
Following each question, my uncle would touch one of the pads and I was to score it. Then, any notes I had on a particular answer or potential juror, I would write down in a third column.
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Court, and even the jury selection process, is not like what you see on television for the most part. Attorneys questioning a witness are not up walking all over the courtroom. There is no pacing back and forth for theatrics. By no means are they breaking decorum with adversarial banter with the opposing attorney.
Basically, the attorney's stay in their seats -- at least during jury selection -- or stand in front of a podium as they question a witness during a trial. Any documents or evidence which needs to be passed to or from a witness is relayed through a bailiff.
* * *
Per protocol, we rose as the judge entered. He announced the case number and case title, and asked if a settlement had been reached. His clerk indicated there had not. He then did a role call. My uncle stated his name as plaintiff's attorney and the respondent's attorney stated his on behalf of his client.
The respective clients were not in the courtroom on this day, as it would really serve no purpose for them to just sit in the gallery for duration of the selection process.
My uncle then spoke. "Your honor, if it please the court ... joining the plaintiff's table for today's jury selection is one of my assistants who just so happens to be my niece," and gave my name for the record. After the respondent's attorney said he had no objection to my being there, we proceeded with the selection process.
* * *
Exactly 28 potential jurors were interviewed both by my uncle and the respondent's attorney. Neither seemed to ask too many questions, and some of the inquiries were definitely irrelevant to the case. However, after about the fourth interview, I could see what my uncle was doing, and the purpose for his questions.
All the while, we used our little system to keep score, and after the second interview, I even started keeping my own score. I marked a "Stanford" here and an "otherwise" there as the interviews went along. Not that it mattered, but it helped me to learn better by judging the members of the prospective jury pool for myself.
I fully had no illusion that my uncle has done this enough times he did not need my help in the least. That turned out to be correct. Despite that, we discussed what we heard up to those points. His comments made sense to me. As I indicated in my previous blog, we think in a very similar fashion.
At about 4 p.m. both attorney's went through the jury list, accepting and dismissing those members each thought as best in regards to their case.
In the end 14 members remained in the jury box -- 12 on the active jury and two alternates.
* * *
So jury selection is complete and we're ready to move forward with opening statements on Wednesday (in fact, those may have taken place already as you read this). I feel confident those 12 jurors will render a fair verdict based on the evidence. Saying that, I am confident that our evidence will outshine anything the respondent will have to offer.
I'll be in the gallery tomorrow while one of my uncle's law clerks will join him at the plaintiff's table. I'll be taking notes as I planned and will be paying attention to all the special nuances of the trial. This experience has been amazing, and the trial has yet to start.
I feel as if I can already see tomorrow's sun peaking over the horizon as I think about it.
Note: This is the second of three entries in a series of blogs regarding this experience.