Group Think

Last Word

We citizens of the United States really have only a few mandates for good citizenship: paying taxes and jury duty. Unlike many countries I visit that have mandatory military service for 2 years, our military is voluntary (my sincere thanks to those young men and women who step up to put on the uniform).

Jury duty is an important call that is critical to the basic function of our criminal justice system. I’ve lived in greater Cincinnati for more than 40 years and have never been called for jury duty. That string ended in May when my summons arrived.

That initial summons provided a one-time exemption with the stipulation that I reschedule in a reasonable amount of time. Well, since I was holding a ticket to Switzerland and scheduled to be out of the country for my assigned dates, the court excused me from the May date. My reschedule was set for July. Here where I live, the duty part is a 2-week commitment to be available in the jury pool.

Many people I spoke with who had served before told me if one gets called for a trial it’s usually a day or two then it’s back to the pool. We had a nice room with internet access, so I planned to hang around and try to get some work done remotely while I waited for a court in need of jurors. It sounded kind of laid back to me. 

As they say, “The best laid plans…” I show up at our county courthouse on Day 1 and immediately get assigned to a trial. It was a malpractice suit that lasted for an unusual 7 days—so much for working remotely.

Being a malpractice suit (a civil case), it was detailed and tedious as witnesses paraded through the courtroom, several per day. Most of these witnesses were highly regarded experts in their fields, neurology, orthopedics and anesthesiology. Testimony was technical and required our full attention.

Our system is based on adversarial arguments with the burden of proof in a suit like this on the plaintiff. The legal crux of the case was whether or not the defendant was guilty of delivering medical care that was below the standard established for the procedure in question.

So the lawyers and doctors representing each side presented the facts and expert opinions on what happened to the plaintiff, and we jurors listened and took notes. Having never seen a live trial, I found the experience fascinating.

However, my take away from the experience has less to do with the doctors, lawyers, expert witnesses and other courtroom trappings, and more with my fellow jurors. We met as strangers, yet by the end of deliberations, I think it’s fair to say we were certainly much closer.

I found the process of deliberation particularly interesting because eight of us from different backgrounds and circumstances found a way to come together to get the job we were assigned done. Within the structure of the law, we reviewed the lawyers’ presentations and weighed the preponderance of evidence to reach a verdict.

There was give and take from each of us because the end result was important and necessary. In this room, we discussed, with civility, where we each were coming from on the various points of determination, and in the end reached a unanimous decision.

We deliberated for a full day, reviewing the testimony and various exhibits presented by both sides. It was interesting to observe and participate in the group dynamics of this process.

Was everyone in total agreement? Absolutely not. However, we managed to put our individual selves somewhat into the background in order to accomplish our civic duty.

In many ways the exercise in that jury room is designed to mimic how we should function in business. My fellow jurors each made contributions to the outcome of the trial. Each was given a voice and listened to with respect.

According to our presiding judge, this is the strength of the justice system: People working together to make the best decision they can based only on the evidence, without ego or prejudice. Perhaps there is a lesson in here for who might be invited to the next meeting you call.

In our group, eight out of eight contributed dispassionately to the strength of our collective decision. We never took our eye off the task we had been called to perform. Nobody shouted down another person or inserted personal prejudices into the discussion. We did it right, and we did it together.