On Monday mornings at the outset of trial, there are many things that the lawyers and judge need to accomplish outside the hearing of the jury panel. Usually, much of this happens before the panel is seated in the courtroom. But often times, each potential juror is stuck with significant downtime while the lawyers and court handle procedural issues.
During one of such session, in which the lawyers for both sides were conferring with the judge in a rural county in central Alabama, a potential juror popped up and began walking toward the back doors of the courtroom. The judge piped up, “Son, what are you doing?”
The fellow paused and partially turning, replied, “Judge, I have to pee.” And continued his exit.
When he had walked out of the courtroom, the surprised judge smirked and announced, “Let the record reflect the gentleman has to pee.” Eliciting nervous laughter from the other panel members.
Shortly afterward, we recommenced jury selection and at noon, broke for lunch. Most of the jurors exited the room, but our audacious prospective juror approached the front and laid his “Juror” badge in front of the court reporter. The judge inquired, “Why did you lay that down?”
“I’m not coming back.”
“I don’t have time for this. I got things to do.”
“Did you tell the other judge that when he was excusing jurors?”
“Did he excuse you?”
At this point, I was thoroughly impressed with the judge’s disposition. There are many things a court will abide, but disrespect is not among them. The four lawyers in the room were just watching the scene unfold, astonished and disbelieving.
“Well, then you’re not excused, and we’ll see you after lunch.” The belligerent juror turned to walk out without retrieving his badge. For his benefit, the court addressed him one more time: “Son, I want to be real clear with you – if we come back from lunch and you’re not back here sitting in the third row, I’m going to send the sheriff to your house to pick you up.” The potential juror continued his retreat.
When we returned from lunch, the juror badge was no longer on the court reporter’s table, and our potential juror was seated meekly in row number three. Unbeknownst to him, both sides had agreed during lunch to strike him. He wasn’t going to be good for anyone’s cause.
Want to read more about jury selection? Here’s a mini-series I authored in which I interviewed a handful of lawyers around the country about the voir dire process: How to Voir Dire a Jury.
Photo by Michael Zornek.