The Duty of Jury Duty
I recently spent nearly two weeks serving on a jury for a civil suit (Jonathan Friedrich V. Rancho Bel Air POA Unit 2, Inc. and Performance CAM, LLC). And lemme tell you what, that sure was something. To be honest, I didn’t hate jury duty itself. What I hated were the circumstances around me serving, both in and out of the court.
I believe hard in a trial by jury, in the civil service of our general populous, and other such lofty ideals. The concept of only having a jury comprised of college kids, housewives and househusbands, and the retired doesn’t sit right with me, and neither does one consisting of those who couldn’t find a way to get out of jury duty, so I was initially excited at the prospects of serving. The case involved Friedrich suing his Home Owners’ Association for wrongly charging him HOA fees because they had no legal jurisdiction to do so. And since I have no strong opinions about HOAs or the elderly, of course I was the perfect neutral party for a jury. First time I’ve ever been summoned to jury duty, and bam, on a seated jury with ease. 2 days is what it took to pick out the final jury members. 2 days of weirdly personal questions, lots of sitting around and being actively discussed by the attorneys, and generally not much else. Looking back, maybe I should have said OLD PEOPLE SUCK or HOAS SUCK or EAT THE RICH or THE JUSTICE SYSTEM IS STILTED IN THE FAVOR OF THOSE WITH MONEY AND POWER or something. But nope, there I was, slated to be there for what felt like forever.
My first real problem with serving was, as it is for many, dealing with time away from work. Nevada has no regulations in place for one’s workplace to compensate them for their time served. So, I wasn’t going to get paid for my time away from work. Thus started a miserable mix of going into work early before my court time, using up PTO, and coming in on the weekends to minimize unpaid hours. Thankfully my relatively meager $40 a day stipend from the courthouse was mine to keep, and I walked away not losing any money overall, just sleep and free time. And while annoying, at least I was in a much better place to manage juggling all this than some folks, so I had that going for me.
The next real big problem was court timing. Every night, the judge would tell us when to meet back up the next day (usually around 10-11 am, since he had to take care of minor things in the mornings), and every day it seemed like there was at least a 45 minute delay to starting. On the day of closing arguments, it was nearly a 2 and a half hour delay! Some of it was due to my fellow jurors(more on that later), but I came to find out a lot of it was primarily the defense attorney arguing with the judge every morning, sometimes for hours at a time. I didn’t even know that was allowed! The judge told us jurors after we delivered the verdict that he almost threw the defense attorney out of court while we were waiting to start. Maybe it would have made all the waiting around worth it if we could have seen that happen.
And then of course, the trial itself. I’m willing to say it was just my case that was an anomaly, a civil suit shouldn’t take 6 and a half days to present itself. The plaintiff’s been fighting his case for years though, and he and his attorney were quite thorough. They had huge binders full of documents, close to 15 witnesses, giant posters, and more. Documents dating back to the early 1980s, even! And to get that evidence admitted into the case to be shown to the jury, you have to bring it in through a witness, and have it approved by both the opposing attorney and the judge, otherwise it never gets to be shown. It was genuinely fascinating to hear weird questions to lay out reasoning to show a particular document to the court. They took 6 days to present their case, and wanted to leave no stone unturned, since it is the plaintiff’s job to prove their case. In contrast, the defense took maybe 3 hours tops, only really saying that the entire case was based off of a silly paperwork mistake that was never correctly, and offered up zero of their own evidence. How you gonna hire someone like that? I would be livid if that’s how my defense attorney presented my case. After what felt like an eternity, we finally made it into the deliberation room.
Did you know, that (at least in the state of Nevada), to settle a civil suit, you only need 8 jurors to deliberate, and only 6 of the 8 have to agree to a charge? That was the first thing I learned once we got to deliberation. I also learned they more or less have to feed you while you’re in there, because you can’t leave until you either have a verdict or stop for the night. There’s also “jury instructions”, and for us it was a 40ish page booklet explaining the charges, how to determine if we believed the charges were just, and so on. I got to be the foreperson, and essentially spent 6 hours trying to lead discussion, corral votes, and answer questions from my fellow jurors as best I could. It was actually kind of fun, but there was a lot of yelling. Like. A lot. Of yelling. We all thought we’d be done in an hour, and it ended up taking quite a bit of time, and even then, it was just because of the 75% agreement rule that we were able to reach verdicts on the charges in the first place.
Of the charges presented to us to judge on, we could only come to a majority agreement on “negligent misrepresentation”: essentially, we determined that when Friedrich had bought his home, he was presented with an HOA rulebook that did not apply to him, and thus was wrongly charged HOA fees. We awarded him his HOA fees back, as well as a small punitive sum. One juror believed very hard that the HOA was trying to fix the initial problem that stemmed this case, but I believe if that were the case, they would have had it fixed back when the state had sent them notices back in at least 2011 to get it straightened out. Either way, defense was understandably upset, Friedrich was upset we didn’t award him more money but ultimately happy in win, and us jurors were ready to not have to listen about this case ever again.
Maybe I should have tried harder to get out of it when I first reported for jury duty. The obnoxious amount of time it took (nearly 2 full weeks), combined with the hours I tried to make up for at work, along with the gross amount of delays, makes serving on a jury a hard thing for me to want to do again or encourage others to do. But maybe it was just my case. The actual court room time (even though it did take a while) and deliberations were very much interesting and informative. I even enjoyed some of it. But it’s a rough time, jury duty, and to be fair I probably had an easier time accommodating my life for it than most others. Doesn’t mean I particularly wanted to, or that I found it fair or even reasonable at times. I’d like more people to serve their time on a jury, but it’s a very inconvenient process for many. I don’t know what might make it better, but I feel we should find ways to do so, so jury duty isn’t seen as a chore, and instead seen as a unique opportunity to be a part of the American judicial system in a way afforded to few.
FUN OTHER QUICK TIDBITS FROM JURY DUTY
- The attorneys are allowed to hang out after the verdict is delivered and literally WAIT FOR YOU TO LEAVE to try and talk to you. You don’t have to talk to them though, but it was unsettling for the court marshal to take us to get our stipend checks and just have the attorneys right outside the door.
- One of the witnesses had a piece of his deposition read to the court (it was roughly “if we hadn’t told [Friedrich] about the problems, he never would have brought [the POA] to court”), and then claiming BUT IT WAS A TONGUE IN CHEEK COMMENT MADE IN FRUSTRATION. Sure, but you know what a deposition also is? Made under that oath about “telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” and hoo boy it is NOT something you should be making snide or sarcastic comments in because it’s totally admissible in court.
- The judge presiding over the case chatted with us for a while after the verdict, and was a pretty cool guy. He agreed with our rulings so that made me feel a bit better. He also thought it was quite dumb of the defense to not have any of their own evidence to admit, and that making “tongue in cheek” remarks when giving a deposition under oath is a stupid thing to do.
- During the second day of selection, a prospective juror didn’t return. I assume they unfortunately was arrested or fined. But it’s hard when you’re juggling a minimum wage job, and you don’t want to miss out on hours, AND you don’t get paid until you’re on a seated jury, so I sympathize with them. We need to find a better way to address issues like this for the benefit of all.
- Once we were selected, one of the jurors had an appointment they couldn’t reschedule, so we started later one day to accommodate for that. Not only did they never show up, they left a contact number for a different person, and had been advanced some of their stipend to cover for bus fare. We never saw them again, and I know a warrant went out. Wild.
- It’s really hard to separate your personal feelings from how the law and the jury instructions are to be followed. I was just in a civil case, and it caused consternation to degrees I wasn’t expecting for myself and my fellow jurors, just to get 6 of the 8 of us to agree. I can’t imagine being on a criminal case jury and having to come to a complete consensus. It now makes sense as to why some trials are in deliberations for weeks on end.
- Friedrich is a busy man on his crusade against home owners associations. He runs a website dedicated to it, and has been mentioned on other anti-HOA blogs and even appeared on an anti-HOA podcast after the trial. I’ll give it to him for being very consistent in his views for many years, and this not being just a “oh this will be a quick payday” thing.
- I know so very much about HOAs/POAs, CC&Rs, zoning, street taxes, and more. Oh god I know so very much that I’m sure it has pushed out more pertinent information out of my brain.