Monthly Archives: September 2009

Juror Disclosure and Voir Dire in Maryland

The Baltimore Sun’s Peter Hermann reports about a criminal case in Baltimore City that raises questions about juror disclosure and impartiality.

Apparently, this particular case ended in a mistrial because one juror was holding out for an acquittal. After the mistrial was declared, prosecutors learned that the holdout juror was employed as a lawyer by the Office of the Public Defender.

The prosecutors are mad because this juror merely listed her occupation as “attorney.” They think she had some sort of obligation to disclose who she worked for during the jury selection process.
Apparently, she was new to the city public defender’s office, so she truthfully stated that she did not know any of the parties or their attoneys, and she was unaware that one of the co-defenants was represented by a different public defender, whom she also did not know.

The article interviews another juror, W. Stanwood Whiting, who also is an attorney. Like the public defender, he also truthfully listed his occupation as “attorney” without elaborating on the type of work he does. He did not volunteer more, stating “That’s all they asked.”
I don’t have any problem with what this juror did. Every time I have been called for jury duty, I have listed my occupation as “attorney.” All the lawyers in my office I have asked about this do the same thing.

Jury selection is part of the advocacy priocess. If the prosecutors wanted to know if any jurors were criminal defense attorneys or employees of the Office Of The Public Defender, they had an opportunity to request the court to ask that question in voir dire. If the court had refused to ask the question, there would be grounds for an appeal. But here, nobody asked.

That’s on the lawyers involved in the case. That is a good reason that things like voir dire questions, jury instructions and verdict sheets need to be crafted individually based on the needs of each case, rather than just a boilerplate form printed off of the computer. I only do personal injury litigation, but you can be sure that the voir dire questions I submit to the court ask if anyone on the jury panel is employed by an insurance company. If you are concerned about people who work for the other side being on your jury, put it in your voir dire.

This juror truthfully stated her occupation, and truthfully answered the questions put to her. Assuming she truthfully said she could hear the case impartially, I don’t think she did anything wrong. I don’t see any obligation for her to do the prosecutors’ jobs for them by presuming they would like to know who she works for and volunteering it. If that fact is so important to them, why didn’t they ask?

Law School and the Economy.

As our nation’s economic struggles continue, I keep seeing articles addressing the effect the economy has on the legal profession:
The Maryland Daily Record’s Caryn Tamber profiles lawyer jobs for non-practicing attorneys.

The ABA Journal gives advice for seasoned lawyers who suddenly find themselves back in the job market.
Above the Law is a running chronicle of layoffs, non-offers and discontinued summer programs in the Biglaw world.

Dan Slater in the New York Times posits that part of the problem is that law schools are simply admitting more new students than the legal job market can bear. HT- Walter Olson at Overlawyered.

I originally went to law school because I had always had a sense that a legal career would be a good fit for me, despite my complete lack of knowledge of what working as an attorney actually involved. And because I had a liberal arts degree and an utter lack of mathematical aptitude. Add in a college GPA in the “what time is happy hour” range and the ability to score well on standardized tests like the LSAT, voila- law student.

So basically, I did what every reasonable commentator is telling prospective law students not to do. I went to law school because it beat my other options, which consisted of 1) being a bum and 2) construction work. Luckily, I ended up as the rare round peg in a round hole. I love being a personal injury lawyer, and it fits my skill set very well. I can’t imagine doing anything else for a living.

Having made my decision exactly the wrong way, and having had it turn out to be exactly the right decision for me, I have some advice for prospective law students.

Take some time off after college. Use that time to get real-world experience in something. Anything, really.

Find out what lawyers do. Work in a law firm, or set up some informational interviews with practicing attorneys. Your college career center should be able to help with this.

Figure out what you would do if you didn’t go to law school. Then compare it with what you have learned about being a lawyer. Decide what sounds better.

Be aware that the school will lie to you. Out of your class of 300, about 5 people will get those Biglaw jobs paying 160k a year. And 3 of the 5 will be doing something else in 3 years because they hated Biglaw. Consider that when you decide to take loan money.

Think about being a night student, and working during the day. Not having loan obligations widens your career options upon graduation.

Finally, become a lawyer because you want to be one. It’s a great career choice if you have a passion for what you’re doing and a drive to excel at it.

Lack of Visible Property Damage Can Be a Problem in Personal Injury Trials

I just finished a two-day jury trial in the Circuit Court for Cecil County. Based solely on the preceding sentence, any experienced Maryland personal injury lawyers reading this probably have an idea where this post is going.

I was trying one of the most difficult types of cases to present to a jury. A rear-end collision with no visible damage to the vehicles involved, allegations of a fairly serious injury, and venue in a rural, conservative county with a (well-deserved) reputation for not being plaintiff-friendly.

The defendant driver claimed that she merely took her foot off her brake pedal a little too early while stopped at a traffic signal, and drifted into the back of my client’s car. The photos of the vehicle damage supported this version of events- there was no damage visible.

My client felt pain in her neck, and was transported by ambulance to the local emergency department, where she was diagnosed with a cervical strain and told to follow up with her primary care doctor in 3-5 days if it did not improve. It didn’t, so she did. Ultimately, she was diagnosed with a herniated disc at C5-6. This was confirmed by MRI, and the client’s shoulder radiculopathy was confirmed by EMG.

At trial, the client’s primary care doctor testified that he had been her doctor for many years, and that she had never had a neck problem before this accident. Her neurologist also testified that the herniated disc was caused by the accident. He testified that the vehicle damage photos did not change that opinion.

There was no defense medical expert.
The jury awarded $2,500.00 of the claimed medical bills, and $500.00 for non-economic damages.
I can’t say this was an unexpected result on these facts in that jurisdiction. I tend to be more aggressive than most in trying low property damage cases. This is because I believe people do get injured in low-impact collisions and they deserve to have a lawyer willing to fight to get a jury to do the right thing; and because I look at these kinds of cases as one of the biggest challenges for plaintiff’s accident lawyers.

Here, an ambulance crew transported my client to a hospital, the hospital diagnosed a neck problem, and two local physicians testified as to the medical causation issue. I am not sure what more evidence could have been produced linking the injury to the accident. I wonder whether any amount of evidence would have been enough to overcome the “nobody could have gotten hurt in this accident” defense.

This one is now stored in the “Get ‘Em Next Time File.” I am still mad, though. When I lose and don’t care, I will quit doing trial work.