“No, I don’t think the jury system is broken,” he responded. “I agree with your comment that it’s unfortunate that the justice system is more politicized than it used to be, but I don’t think that the … justice system and the concept of jury trials is a broken system. I don’t think that at all.”
Another attorney I spoke with echoed Golik’s comments.
“I was a trial attorney for over 50 years. I tried some very heavy civil personal injury cases on behalf of defendants. The jury system is not foolproof, but it works 95 percent of the time. Would you rather have a bench trial with a judge who has some preconceived idea of what’s right or wrong, or 12 jurors of your peers? The case that goes off the rails gets all the publicity.”
Neither of these attorneys was speaking directly to the Benton case but generally about the system.
And their comments are fair. Truth is we’re not talking about science here. All of this is very subjective. The juror I spoke to felt after sitting through the trial and deliberations, the system was broken. Others disagree. And in a civil case like this one, all you need to win is a 10-2 favorable vote or better.
But let’s get back to the juror’s experience.
Hanson is a 64-year-old retired geologist who has lived in Clark County for a decade. After her jury experience she was quite disillusioned with the system, she said.
Her disillusionment started soon after deliberations began. Of the 12 jurors, she said nine had their minds made up immediately. She and two others appeared to start with an open mind. But the others sided with the Benton supporters pretty quickly, leaving her alone.
Look, being the only one in a situation like this is a very difficult task. Those who have seen “12 Angry Men” can appreciate how improbable it was for one guy standing alone to somehow convince 11 other jurors that they were wrong and he was right. But this ain’t the movies.
Still, I asked her if she gave it the ol’ college try. Was she tough?
“Initially I was. I tried to stay very professional, I stayed calm. They would say stuff like ‘I bet this happened’ and they would go off for hours on making up stuff and I would say ‘You can’t say that, we don’t know what happened’ and they would say “Well, we’re pretty sure that’s what happened.’”
“They all ganged up (on me.)”
Another example of the heavy leaning toward Benton was what they thought of him … and the county.
“(Benton and the two others) were saviors, angels, experts. They were in the right on everything, the county was totally wrong. They all said the county should provide everybody with a job for life.”
Huh? A job for life?
Hanson said the jurors also rationalized their award wasn’t coming from the county taxpayers’ pockets. It was coming from an insurance company.
I’ve always felt this was a goofy rationalization. Does anyone actually think insurance companies aren’t making money? Believe me, it’s costing taxpayers money.
I’m not sure there are any easy answers to this issue. If it’s true that 95 percent of the cases are fair, do we just put up with the anomalies? But what if only 50 percent of the cases turn out to be fair? Would having judges make the decisions be better? They, of course, know the law, but what of their prejudices? Should we be more diligent in selecting jurors? How about asking tougher, more “difficult” questions to prospective jurors? What about creating a group of professional jurors? They would all be heavily vetted. That would take the wildcard aspect of getting jurors on a case that are not fit.
My sense is we’re trending in the wrong direction here. And it’s probably the right time to ask ourselves some questions about how to make the system better.