By John DiMotto
Important to making the jury comfortable and at ease in doing their job is how the judge interacts with and relates to the jury panel as a whole and then to the jury that is empanelled. Jury Orientation is critical.
The majority of people who are called to jury service are there for the first time. Unless they have an understanding of the law, beyond TV or the movies, they come to the courthouse with some trepidation because they are not sure what to expect. It is up to the judiciary to allay their fears and concerns and to reduce their trepidation, anxiety and apprehension. This is done by providing the jurors with information. This may sound obvious, but it is not always done effectively.
This process starts in the Jury Assembly. In Milwaukee County, the new jury panel is welcomed by a representative of Jury Management, a member of the judiciary and then they view a video about jury service. I enjoy taking part in this jury orientation because it gives me an opportunity to give the panel an insiders view of the process and what their service entails. I prepare them for the video by giving them my take on jury service from the perspective of a a judge, a "former" trial attorney and a "former" juror. (I have been called to jury service four times and served once - when I was a judge.) I tell them that I am going to give them the "real" scoop on what they should expect. When I have completed my remarks and can sense they are already more comfortable because I have begun to chip away at "the unknown" which contributes to their anxiety. Providing the jury panel with information on what they should expect provides them with "light at the end of the tunnel." If the jurors know what to expect, "what follows what," they will be more at ease and can concentrate on their task - deciding their case - without being distracted by "the unknown."
As important as a judge's participation in the jury orientation in jury assembly is, what is even more important is how a judge relates to his/her jury panel in his/her courtroom. How a judge relates to the panel in his/her courtroom makes all the difference between a prepared and an unprepared jury.
In my next blog, I will address the judge-jury relationship in the courtroom.