Sociology on Trial II

May 28, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

In my day and a half on jury duty last week, I never even made it into the box for voir dire.

Long ago, when I first started doing jury duty in Manhattan and the system was less efficient, you had to count on being there at least ten days. It was summer, and the air conditioning was just what you see in “12 Angry Men” (which takes place in this same building) – none.

I was called for several cases, but at voir dire, prosecutors would never allow me on a jury. (In principle, you don’t know which lawyer – prosecutor or defense – has rejected you, but it was pretty easy to guess.)

I wanted to be a juror. Not Henry Fonda, just another juror. Hell, a trial had to be more interesting than hanging around the central jury room.

One afternoon, after the lunch break, I went to the men’s room, and by chance, there was the prosecutor who that morning had rejected me.

“Why’d you toss me off your case?” I asked as innocently as possible.

“You kidding?” he said, “A sociologist? You people don’t think anyone’s responsible for what they do.”

I still wonder what I should have said.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, I've heard that sociologists never get chosen. I've been rejected since I was an undergrad majoring in sociology. Is anyone that is reading this a sociologist that was chosen? Just curious.

Jay Livingston said...

One year on jury duty, I met Irwin Goffman of NYU; he had been chosen for a jury. And a few years ago, I was selected. The prosecutor was a novice -- it may have been her first case. I don't remember if she or the defense lawyer even asked what I taught.

Henry Tischler said...

Once I had made it all the way to jury box and just before the trial started I was dismissed as one of the challenges available to the lawyer or prosecutor.
Another time I was chosen and actually became the foreman through a lottery. The case was bizarre because it was a civil case where the plaintive, a wealthy individual was suing his friend of thirty years' daughter for money she clearly did not have. He had already won an amount in the lower court and was now appealing for more. We reduced it below what the lower court assessed.

Kai said...

I was called for jury duty, but not selected.

Peter said...

This is brilliant - I went to jury duty downtown as well, last summer, and didn't even make it into a pool.

My partner, however, made it into a pool and into the voir dire process. She claims she was booted after they asked her what her husband did for a living:
'He's a professor'
'Oh? Of what?'
'I see. Thank you, that's all.'

I liked that they explicitly tell you not to go to Century 21, and everyone comes back from lunch with bags from there anyhow.

Jay Livingston said...

Forget Century 21. The best part of jury duty is lunch in Chinatown. Many years ago, I was in a voir dire group with Mimi Sheraton, who had been the NY Times resto critic. We asked her where to go, and the jury of 6 (civil trial, and three of us were college professors) took her advice. Pricier than the typical noodle joint but worth it. And when we got back from lunch all set to start hearing testimony, the two sides had settled.