I’ve been instructed to report for jury duty this morning. No, lawyers aren’t automatically exempted from jury duty. We’re just like everybody else.

Now, unlike a lot of other potential jurors, I want to serve. I can not think of a better possible way to improve myself at my profession than to serve on a jury — to see what other lawyers do, and to hear and witness how jurors actually deliberate. Ironically, I just finished an MCLE class on jury selection. And obviously, I’m quite comfortable in the court; it’s a familiar environment for me.

And as it happens, I have some substantial documents that I can review while I’m waiting to be picked so if there is idle time — and from what jurors have told me before, there is plenty of that — it won’t be a complete waste of the opportunity to get work done.

Then there’s the issue of the fact that there are damn few things the government makes you do. You have to register for the draft. You have to file a tax return. And you have to serve jury duty once a year if you’re picked. I’ve been back in California six years and this is the first time I’ve even been summoned to make myself available to be picked. These are hardly onerous civic duties.

The issue is: will another lawyer want me on their jury? And the answer ultimately depends on things I’ve not even a glimmer of hope of controlling — what kind of case it is and what those attorneys think of having someone who will be capable of analytical thought and retention of evidence on the jury will do to the deliberations. Maybe they both want someone like that for their case.

 [ADDED]: After waiting around all day, I was finally excused from service at 4:30. I’ll have more detailed thoughts in a follow-up post.

* There seems to be a trend amongst other sub-bloggers here to emulate the Mindless Diversions format of a one-word-with-exclamation-point blog post title. At least this week there is. Now I’m part of the problem.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. I got ditched last time because of the street that I live on.

    SES is probably more likely what’ll get you scratched, if anything. (maybe that’s just my town, but when I was on a jury, folks seemed capable of intelligent thought, no matter what background they were from).

  2. No politics. I want to serve but I always make the mistake of telling the truth during voir dire. It amounts to me effectively recusing myself.

    • I’m not trying to be political here. More of a professional amusement than anything else that I should be called. As Kim correctly points out, the odds of my actually making it on to a panel are very small. I’m virtually certain to be back in the office tomorrow. But maybe I’ll learn something from the experience, which I’ll be sure to share here because I love my Readers.

      And yes, you should be honest during voir dire. There are a variety of ways to be honest. “I think the law ought to be different than it is” is every bit as true as “I will refuse to convict someone of that so-called ‘crime.'”

      • I mentioned the case from California where the defense was not allowed to mention that the grower had a license from California and, as such, I said that I couldn’t be confident that the judge and the prosecution weren’t colluding to withhold exculpatory information.

        (What part of “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” would not allow that tidbit of information to be uttered from the stand?)

        The prosecution thanked me for my time.

    • I kept waiting, last time, for a question that would do this; had they gone anywhere near the WoD and/or jury nullification, I woulda been out no doubt due to my answers.

      But they never did, and I didn’t volunteer any additional info beyond the questions I was asked, so I got seated (though I was dismissed as an alternate prior to deliberations).

      I just got called again, we’ll see how this one goes.

  3. My dad (also a lawyer) got picked for jury duty and made it to voir dire.

    He was asked by counsel how many times he had done voir dire and responded a couple of hundred. Both trial lawyers looked shocked and he explained that he was a plaintiff’s lawyer. He got dismissed then.

    The first time I got called to jury duty in California was when I was studying for the California Bar, so I asked for it to be kicked forward by 6 months. The second time I told them I was studying for the New York bar and was dismissed and given a nice slip of paper saying I served. It would have been a long criminal trial (4-6 weeks) according to the judge. I was kind of intrigued but decided studying for the New York bar was more important.

  4. I consider it an important duty, and I’m happy to serve, but I’ve only gotten through voir dire to sit on a jury twice. Only once did I bounce myself deliberately.

    It was kind of an interesting case, and the facts came out during voir dire. The two thug defendants (they’d dressed them up, but it didn’t help) had called a woman real estate agent to meet them at a house way out in the country for the purpose of kidnapping her. She had been suspicious, so she had the cops meet her there, and they arrested the guys when they started to act threatening. But since the thugs hadn’t actually done anything overt, they were charged with conspiracy rather than kidnapping.

    The defense attorney’s strategy was not to put on any defense and rely on the prosecution not being able to make its case. He was preparing the prospective jurors for this by asking each one the same question: “If you had to decide right now, would it be guilty or not guilty?” A disappointing number of us couldn’t figure out that the right answer was “Presumption of innocence means ‘Not guilty.'” Anyway, by the time they got to me the twelve were picked, and I really didn’t want to sit through a long trial as an alternate. So when he asked me “Would you be prejudiced against my clients because they’re charged with conspiracy? Would it make you think of them as subversives or communists?”, I answered quite truthfully “Not at all, since, as everyone should know, the purpose of the conspiracy laws was to try to destroy the labor movement.” He was fine with that (if a bit taken aback), but the prosecutor thanked and excused Mr. Schilling.

  5. “Then there’s the issue of the fact that there are damn few things the government makes you do. You have to register for the draft. You have to file a tax return. And you have to serve jury duty once a year if you’re picked.”

    The gov’t makes me put E10 gas in my car.
    The gov’t tells me what I can and cannot put into my body.
    The gov’t makes me buy a car with 4+ airbags, and soon a backup camera.
    The gov’t makes me pay for the education and raising of children that are not my own.
    I can go on for pages…..

    • You don’t need to drive, you know.
      You don’t need to follow the government’s recommendations on what to put in your body, though some are illegal to own (as opposed to illegal to market as a drug).
      The government doesn’t make you buy a car. You could buy a motorbike. Much cheaper.

      The government education system is part of paying taxes, dude.

      • Indeed I can choose to ignore what the gov’t tells me to do. The consecquences are that I’m either put in a cage or killed. Sorry, that counds as “make” in my book.

        • It’s a free country. you can consume all the wood alcohol you want. you just can’t bottle it and sell it to your neighbor. That’s against the law.

          Ditto eating tansy or antifreeze or half a dozen other things.

          • No, you’re wrong. It’s NOT a free country, otherwise I’d be able to do all that I mentioned above without LEO problems, but I suspect that you know this and are just being “difficult”.

        • If you buy a car without an airbag, the government kills you?

          This might just be overstating the case a wee tad.

          • Used to know a couple of EMTs in Chicago. They’d be dispatched to road accidents. They had a running total of Doinks. A Doink is the characteristic starburst pattern of a human skull impacting against a windshield. They also kept track of Double Doinks, when both the driver and front seat passenger’s skulls would hit the windshield. Whoever had the most Doinks on a monthly basis would get a six-pack of beer from the other guy.

          • Many years ago, when I was a lad in Iowa, about the time when seat belts were becoming mandatory equipment, the county judge had an unusual sentence for teenagers found guilty of speeding or reckless driving. The local mortuary provided body pick-up service for people declared dead at the site of auto accidents. Teenagers were sentenced to spend Friday and Saturday evenings at the mortuary until they had gone on a body run. Probably one of darned few places in the country where teenagers nagged their parents to buckle up.

    • There may be a lot of things that the government prohibits you from doing and I don’t claim that we live in a libertarian utopia. You can’t kill your neighbor. You can’t steal his TV. You can’t perjure yourself. Do you object to those prohibitions on your liberty as well? If not, then we agree, at minimum, that there is some amount of governmental restriction on the absolute liberty of the individual to do precisely as he pleases which is appropriate and legitimate. From there, it is a question of where that line is drawn.

      But in my quote in the OP, I’m talking about things the government makes you affirmatively do, rather than things the government prohibits you from doing.

      I didn’t include “you have to pay taxes” because not everyone does have to pay taxes.

      For the record, the government doesn’t require that you put a particular kind of gas in your car. Rather, it prohibits a merchant from selling particular kinds of gasoline.

      The government doesn’t make you put anything in your body. Rather, it prohibits you from putting certain things in it. Other things, you’re free to put in, or not, as you choose.

      The government does not make you buy a car with any particular equipment. Rather, it does not allow merchants to sell new cars that lack that equipment. You can buy a used car if you want.

      Yes, the govenment does make you file a tax return. If the results of that tax return are such that you owe taxes, then yes, the government does make you pay those taxes. And yes, the government uses those tax dollars, in part, to pay for the education and raising of children not your own. It also uses them to pay for national defense and infrastructure and old age pensions and medical care, all of which benefit particular individuals who may very well not be you or people you even know.

      But I’m unsympathetic to the complaint “Wah! The government makes me pay taxes!” because the alternative to taxes is anarchy. And no, we don’t live in an anarchy. In an anarchy, it would take an extraordinary confluence of events for me to be called to serve on a jury, and the ability of a litigant to put her claims before a jury is not something I am ready to give up that easily just so that someone else can buy leaded gasoline.

      • Yes, the govenment does make you file a tax return. If the results of that tax return are such that you owe taxes, then yes, the government does make you pay those taxes.

        In principle, the government could make it such that taxes are filed automatically and online. Most Singaporeans don’t pay income taxes. Of about the quarter or so who do, most just take 15-20 min to review the online tax statement and press submit.

        Of ocurse, in order to have that you need to have a simple tax code. About the only people who hire tax accountants are corporations.

      • I’ve always liked:

        “Taxes are the price we pay for living in a civilized society.”-Oliver Wendall Holmes, Jr.

        • But it says absolutely nothing about what level of taxes meet the standard. So while it may be a good response to someone who wants to pay nothing, it has no value as a response to someone who wants to pay less.

          • It doesn’t not say that that the amount someone is being asked to pay is the amount they must pay to meet their share of the price, and it certainly implies it might be. So it injects into the conversation about what is someone’s rightful effective tax rate its whole framework for why pay taxes at all. So I think it potentially has value to either side in that discussion once that framework is established: the one side can say ‘What I want to pay meets my part of that price!’; the other side can say, ‘No, to meet your part of the price you must pay this much more!’ All on its own it doesn’t have definitive probative value on the question, but it has value in the course of a response to someone wanting to pay less tax.

          • …Rather, it doesn’t say that the asked amount is not the person’s share of the amount. It allows someone to claim that the amount they are asking the person to pay is their share of that price. Compared to a situation where the person is asking to pay far less in taxes and the respondent isn’t armed with that idea nor has it been established as a baseline in the conversation, it has great value in such a response (if he can get it agreed to). I can easily see someone who wishes to pay less tax but who had legitimately never considered that idea before areducing the size of his tax cut ask in response to the insight.

          • MD,

            I don’t think so. It says nothing about amounts, so neither side can use it meaningfully for such an argument.

            It’s a truism. Civilization assumes some degree of collectively provided goods, which have to be paid for, and will be through something functionally equivalent to taxes, even if it takes the form of tribute or whatever fees would be imposed by a libertarian-designed private city. It’s value is in reminding us that these collective goods we value do cost, and that nothing is truly paid for by government, but by the people (for which reason libertarians really should be more enthusiastic about the phrase, I think).

            But that ‘s the extent if its value. It provides no guidance in discussions about what collective goods we ought to demand, how much we ought to be willing to pay for them, or how the burden of paying for them ought to be apportioned. It’s equally applicable to both the social democratic welfare state and the minimal night watchman state.

          • That’s certainly a reasonable view of it. My claims have said it potentially could be of value and that i can easily see how it could – not that it must.

            As I say, in a conversation about tax apportionment with someone who has not considered this, I’m quite sure it could be meaningful. It raises the question of what one would consider to be necessary for ‘civilization.’ That could break any way, but it could easily break in favor of the person accepting a greater burden.
            For example, I think a lot of rich people who now want to pay more taxes or oppose lower taxes on themselves might not feel that way had they not previously considered whether they thought that, to them, to live in a civilized society in which they are able to have so much has to mean that there must be systematic provision of basics (or more than basics!) for those who have little in an amount and in such a universal and systematic way that only the government could provide it. It’s entirely plausible that this quote may have spurred them to consider what they thought is necessary to have civilization in the capitalist system, and arrived at that conclusion. I don’t see how that’s not deriving guidance on tax apportionment from this truism, even if it’s not enforceable on others.

            Again, it doesn’t necessarily provide anybody with *unavoidable* guidance about apportionment (or levels or sufficiency for civilization), but it could easily provide anyone with an interest in reflecting on the questions it raises with such guidance.

  6. These ruminations on lived experience in the legal system are really fantastic, Burt. You are a really great writer of reflective personal narrative. Would love to see these continue.

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