Originally posted on 02/13/20, content updated on 11/02/23
Courtroom assigned! One after another, Sheriff’s Deputies come to call out a list of potential jurors to report to various courtrooms. I sit, comparing myself to the Schoolhouse Rock “Bill,” sitting on Capitol Hill, just waiting for the possibility of getting called, only to be “stuck in committee” for who knows how long. For now, it appears I am headed — along with 29 of my community “peers” — to a courtroom to face “voir dire,” which derives, as the Chief Judge so ably explained during the informative orientation video, from an old French term meaning “to tell the truth” – my French is rusty enough that I decide not to challenge the judge on this one!
“Wait right here, and I’ll be back to take you to the courtroom,” the Deputy tells us after assuring we are all present and accounted for.
One step closer, and my thoughts return to how unlikely it is that, as a trial lawyer myself, I will survive voir dire to make it to one of the comfy seats in the jury box. Telling the truth won’t be an issue, obviously. The threshold question is whether the lawyers on the case like my answers. In the video, Judge White cautioned that one or more of us might be subject to an attorney’s “strike” and not to take it personally or to take offense if that happens. Yeah, right! How else to interpret being stricken other than: “Juror X, you are exactly the kind of person we don’t want deciding the fate of our client. Buh-bye!”
Still, we all have our biases, whether we recognize them or not. As trial attorneys, we are called upon to engineer trial scenarios most favorable for our client, including evaluating and striving for the most potentially favorably pre-disposed jury possible – or, in any event, one that is the least unfavorably pre-disposed! But, this day, I am not the one doing the engineering. This day, my own predispositions are subject to being exposed – or worse . . . presumed! . . . guessed at by those who will be forced to consider, as they must with each potential juror, whether having me, a trial attorney, on their jury panel is a pro or a con for their client’s case.
When the attorneys “rest” their case and the jury leaves to deliberate the outcome, will my presence in the room help or hurt their chances of success? Essentially, the attorneys on the case must decide whether my professional experience is more or less likely to be a positive factor for them. Will I be open-minded and able to decide the case based only on the evidence presented? Will I influence others on the jury to consider things that perhaps only I observed during the trial because of my own trial experience (evidentiary shortcomings?) or be called upon to explain what something meant (a legal objection sustained or an instruction from the judge), or perhaps even resolve legal questions ordinarily brought to the judge’s attention? And, ultimately, will it be better or worse for their client if I am in the jury room with the possibility of any or all of the above.
Whoa! Pump the brakes, big guy! Reality check. We’re still sitting in the jury assembly room, awaiting the Deputy’s return to take us to the courtroom. I wonder what kind of case we’ll be assigned . . . civil or criminal? Will it be an attorney I know? Here comes the Deputy now . . . . Juror 996642 ready for voir dire!
ABOUT THOMAS W. REPCZYNSKI
As a Principal with Offit Kurman’s Commercial Litigation Group, Mr. Repczynski is an Estate and Trust litigator and business litigation lawyer emphasizing will/trust disputes, creditors’ rights enforcement, and B2B business disputes. Over the past 30+ years, Tom has co-owned and operated an exterior painting business and a used furniture business; clerked in the Starr OIC and interned at both Main Justice and the Court of Federal Claims; chaired two local Bar association Boards, two community architectural review boards (VA and NC), and the Committee of Boy Scout Troop 688. Tom is the immediate past Chairman of the Boards of both the Metropolitan School of the Arts in Alexandria, VA, and the South Fairfax Chamber of Commerce, in Lorton, VA. When time allows, Tom also announces local high school football games and umpires for his local Little League.