Recollections of Serving as a Juror in a Civil and Criminal Case
Nov 20 2017

Recollections of Serving as a Juror in a Civil and Criminal Case

By: Keith John Paul Horcasitas

So many people lament and can't wait to try one excuse after another to get out of the so-called “dreaded Jury Duty” obligation. Not me – I was excited when I  got my notice in the mail about 6 years ago to serve in Baton Rouge and was selected for a Civil case locally in Judge William Morvant's Court; this flashed me back, at times, to when I had served in a Criminal case back in the late 1980s in New Orleans in Judge Dennis Waldron's Court when we had found a Defendant Guilty on a 10 – 2 ruling. 

In my previous experience, I had never served as a Juror before and didn't expect to be picked then, due to being a Licensed Clinical Social Worker – I thought “for sure” the Plaintiff would excuse me, having the likely assumption that I would then be too biased (“Compassionate”) on behalf of the Defendant. Well, I was wrong, and I got picked with 12 others (included an Alternate) to serve on one of the most serious types of felony cases. Likewise, I was surprised to be picked as a juror recently to serve on a Civil case. 

My experiences in the “voir dire,” or jury selection processes, were positive. This basically involved allowing both the Plaintiff and the Defendant attorneys the opportunities to accept or excuse me and others as a prospective juror for any reason that may be considered not advantageous to their cause. In both cases, it appeared that both sides sincerely wanted to be sure that I and the other prospects did not have any unfair bias for the serious matters at hand. As one of the attorneys in the case noted to us, this wasn't going to be like the classic “Perry Mason” shows had depicted – we had to let go of any preconceived notions that we may have had. 

It just so happened that recently, due to a job transition that I was preparing for, an attempt was made to see if I could officially be granted an excuse and postpone my serving, but the paperwork had not been prepared on time, so I went ahead and showed up with what appeared to be almost 400+ prospective jurors on that Monday which began the process. 

Ms. Collins, the Jury Coordinator at the 19th Judicial District Court (JDC), was very accommodating and made sure that all of us knew how much she appreciated taking our civic duty seriously by showing up. Also, she lightened things up at times so we all could have some good laughs but made sure folks knew that she was in charge – I will never forget that look on her face and silence she demonstrated when an unappreciative potential juror was disrespectful to her! 

An attorney with the Court also came and spoke with us about the protocols involved. He was also very engaging and knew how to get our attention, as well as have a little fun with us. He even demonstrated his apparent clairvoyant ability to be able to tell what someone's profession was just by an appearance – his punch line had us all “in the stitches” when he rightly proclaimed what was one selected person's livelihood! 

When I was called up to Judge Morvant's Court for my most recent jury duty, I didn't really think I would even have a chance to be considered for the case. But after some others potential jurors got excused – especially some other lawyers and a nurse – I got called and then had to reveal that I'd served on that Criminal Court case in New Orleans and that I had once had a “small claims court” lawsuit against a business that eventually went my way. I thought that would rule me out but was pleasantly surprised when both attorneys kept me – I must have an innocent looking face and demeanor! 

It was great to be able to take notes in the recent Civil case since we were not allowed to do that in the Criminal case. I'm so “OCD” about taking notes that I wound up taking about 28+ pages worth of notes, including the Judge's instructions – which actually came in handy. For you see, when the case presentations were completed and Judge Morvant asked for us to deliberate for the first time and make a decision, I was chosen by the other 11 jurors to be the Foreman! 

Judge Morvant was very impartial throughout the proceedings and kept things on track and engaging for us. Kena, our Bailiff, also was also special, as she took care of keeping us jurors comfortable, with coffee and aware of when we had to stand, sit and other protocols for the deliberations. Also, the Court Reporter, at times, in conjunction with Judge Morvant, had to keep the attorneys in line when they would try to speak over one another or a witness – which made it impossible during those moments for her to accurately record the testimonies. 

The Alternate Juror had to be let go after all of those deliberations – I missed him, as he was very engaging and friendly, as we all had gotten to know each other fairly well during those 3 days. Whenever we took breaks and lunches from the proceedings, as well as when we left for home on Monday and Tuesday evenings, we never could talk about the case to anyone and were instructed not to look at the newspaper or “Google” info about what our case entailed. I have to admit to at least reading my “Smileys” per the online access and doing the daily “Jumbles” like my wife and I routinely do at the end of the day! 

So we certainly talked amongst ourselves about other matters during our times off like where we were from, our work, etc. It was neat to also serve on the jury with a notable former television reporter! The video intro info that we all viewed on Monday that gave us an overview of the jury duty process was given by Sylvia Weatherspoon! 

I brought my own lunches during those days since that wasn't provided by the Court – nor were we in any need of being sequestered, as in some serious Criminal and high profile Civil Cases. On Wednesday around 5 P when Judge Morvant called us to deliberate, I was tempted to ask Kena if we could request a dinner, since we initially thought we might take a long time to deliberate; I had never been to Stroube's Restaurant, which is located just down the street from the 19th JDC, so I had teased her and other jurors that we just may have had to ask for that! When I served in the Criminal Court in New Orleans, Judge Waldron had gotten us lunch from the old “Riverbend Restaurant” that was. S. Carrollton and St. Charles Avenues and from the “Wise Cafeteria” that used to be on S. Jefferson Davis Pkwy if my memory is still accurate! 

So when it came time for me to lead our juror deliberations, I had everyone give their input first and then I gave mine. We deliberated for about 1.5 hours without any serious difficulties in reviewing the critical matter that we had to decide upon. Some jurors initially had questions in their minds about some concerns, but after they heard others input, they clarified their positions. It was amazing then how we all concurred, unanimously (12 - 0), on a verdict in favor of the Defendant. 

Well, that was my jury experience – I hope you get your mailed notice soon, so you can participate in a neat process that does help one to have more faith in the Civil and Criminal Justice system! Instead of trying to avoid the process, maybe you could volunteer for the service – not likely, but at least keep more of an open attitude and mind to what it may provide to you and your community! 

 

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