By Kenneth M. Levine
Juror number five. I see you watching me. I see your eyes following me across the courtroom. I see you trying to discretely eavesdrop and listen to my quiet conversations with my co-counsel for clients at our table in the courtroom. I see you observe when I write notes during the trial on my pad or ask my associate for a document. I see you look me up and down every morning to see what suit I am wearing, what color my tie is and what shoes I have on. I see you stare when I am at the side bar with the judge to gauge if I am being respectful and polite to the court. I see you watch me talk to my clients to see if I am warm and connected to them.
Well Juror number five I see you too. I noticed that you were better dressed than the other jurors. I noticed how guarded you were during jury selection when answering the lawyers’ questions giving us no real insight into who you are and how you might lean in the trial. I notice that you don’t interact much with the other jurors and keep mostly to your yourself. I see how you don’t make eye contact with anyone when the jury comes into the courtroom every morning. I see how hard you work to be stoic during the testimony, so you don’t give any indication what you are thinking.
I know you want to know who I am, but I want to know who you are just as much.
You want to know if I am an honest, trustworthy lawyer. You want to know if you can believe me and the witnesses I am bringing before you. You want to know if I am worth your respect and consideration. You want to know if I am kind and caring to my clients or just a heartless lawyer in it for the money. You want to see that I look like and act like the lawyers you see on television and in the movies. You want me to be to be smart and well put together but not condescending and slick. Sure, you are judging my case and the evaluating the evidence, but I know very well you are also judging and evaluating me.
I suppose I am doing the same thing to you. Every day I try to get inside your head, to get to know and understand you. To figure out what evidence is important to you and what is not. To understand what it means that you are better dressed than the other jurors. Does that mean you are smarter and can understand the medical evidence better? Does it mean that you care less about my working-class clients? If you are smarter, do you give my expert witnesses more credibility because they are from Harvard Medical School and major city hospitals. Or maybe you don’t care about that at all and think my experts should not come from their fancy schools on the east coast to your state far away. If you are well dressed maybe you live in the best neighborhood, maybe near the doctor being sued. I watch you to see if you make any facial expressions, give any hints about what you are thinking, which way you are leaning in the case. You are very stoic, what does that mean. Are you simply playing it straight or are you angry, and if you are at who, me or my opponent? Who are you Juror number five?
We do this dance for two and a half weeks, 13 trial days. You and me, Juror number five. Every day we come to court and circle each other. We don’t speak to each other, we can’t but we speak at each other. I give an opening statement and a closing argument to the whole jury. I have to try and make eye contact with all the jurors, not just you number five. I don’t want to single you out, make you or any juror uncomfortable. I speak at you through my examination of the witnesses. I want to turn to you during the trial and ask what you are thinking, to see if you understand the medicine, if you “get” my case but of course I can’t. You speak to me with the blank look on your face. You are telling me you won’t break; you will not give me a clue. You are telling me not to bother to understand you, that you won’t let me.
The closing arguments are done now. It’s time for the jury to deliberate. You have been the most attentive juror number five. You remain the most dignified of the jurors, the most serious. It’s no surprise when the judge appoints you the forewoman of the jury. The foreperson’s vote in the jury room is no more important than anyone else. All the jurors are equal. The foreperson’s job is to make sure every juror is heard, and every view considered during the deliberation. To be a manager of the jury room. To be certain the deliberation is proper and the vote for the verdict legitimate and correct. Even so, I know from experience the foreperson is usually the most respected juror whose opinion is given more consideration by the others. It is not supposed to be that way, but that’s the way it is.
The jury has come to decision and all the clients and lawyers are called back to the courtroom. We stand as the jury enters. The judge instructs Juror number five to change her seat and sit in the seat of Juror number one, first seat, first row. Juror number five is holding the verdict form and hands it to the clerk who in turn places it in front of the judge on the bench.
In that moment I admire Juror number five. She has not cracked. She is as unemotional and matter of fact as she has been throughout the trial. I admire her determination to be impassive, to be fair.
The verdict is read to the courtroom and we have won the case. The jury has awarded the child a large sum of money. The judge tells the jurors they are free to speak with the lawyers if they wish. A few jurors linger to talk with the lawyers but most hustle out of the courtroom. I see her head toward the door and I walk over to her. I politely ask if she would talk with me about the case. To my surprise she says she will. I thank her for her jury service and for reaching a verdict for my clients. I ask if she can tell me the basis for the jury’s decision, what factors the jury relied on. I tell her it would help me to know for other cases. I know her name from the jury selection process and for the first time address her as Ms. Chavez. She asks where I am from and tells me with my accent it must be on the east coast. She guesses New York but I tell her I am from Boston. She smiles and I learn one of her daughter’s went to college down the street from my house at Boston College. That seems to break the ice and soon we are talking as two people do who have gone together through the emotional experience of a trial. I am happy to hear her say I am a good trial lawyer, that I presented the information well and came across as honest and sincere. She also believed our medical experts and understood their testimony. She doubted the defense experts and did not care for the aggressive and rude way the defense lawyer cross examined the injured child’s mom. We talk for a bit longer. Ms. Chavez tells me how hard it was for her not to show any emotion or react to testimony during the trial, but she felt that she had to act that way to be fair to both sides.
As our conversation winds down, Ms. Chavez asks if it would be possible to speak with the parents and meet the child. As we walk toward the family in the back of the courtroom a smile comes onto her face. She hugs the mom, shakes the dad’s hand and warmly wishes them both well. Then she leans down to speak to the child. I see tears in her eyes as she asks the basic questions…how old are you and what grade are you in. The child is shy but warms up as Ms. Chavez begins to stroke her hair and smile.
Soon it’s time for all of us to leave the courtroom. I know this is the last time I will ever see this person. Someone who had such a dramatic effect on the life of my client and on me disappears into the elevator and is gone. For almost three weeks I saw her every day. Juror number five. Every day I wondered who she was and what she was thinking and now she is gone from my life, like a comet flashing in the night sky.
Thank you, Juror number five, thank you Ms. Chavez. It was nice to know you.