For more years than I would like to count, I started every jury trial with a legal pad (the 14 inch variety) and turned it ninety degrees and drew five or six lines down it. I would do this on several pages, sometimes drawing six or seven lines and sometimes less, depending on the configuration of the courtroom. With my pad turned sideways I would frantically write the name of the juror, his or her jury number and the seat number assigned by the judge.
This process was pretty easy to screw up. Sometimes it was my fault, such as when I omitted a prospective juror, and sometimes it was the fault of the court who might summarily excuse a member of the panel before any lawyer voir dire.
Once jurors were in the box, I would frantically write down answers to standard (which means important) questions. Then at the very bottom I would put in the stuff that wasn’t standard. Finally I would take my pad and, based on what I could read or remember, select a jury.
Ten years ago, when I first started bringing laptops to trial, I tried to create jury selection template in Excel. I failed completely, but every time some new version of Excel came out I would try again, and repeat my failure.
Last fall I was in trial in Miami. I had just downloaded a trial version of iWork’08. There was some problem with the venire, and as a result I had a little time to kill. I decided to see if Numbers would do what Excel couldn’t. To my amazement I had a very functional juror selection form in about ten minutes. Since then I have refined it a bit, but it is still basically the template I made in that courtroom.
My table has 22 rows, and in the first column I put what are (for my employment law practice) standard questions going down the row. The final row is for individualized notes. Given the ease with which templates are created or modified in Numbers, the questions are easily adaptable to specific practice issues. I also took advantage of slide and drop down menus to answer common questions like cities of residence.
With respect to residence in our courts, we do not often get specific residence addresses. However the community tin which a panel member resides gives important clues. When I was using a legal pad, I would rarely write out the full name of the city and use abbreviations like “FL” for Fort Lauderdale or “Hwd” for Hollywood. On my pad the residence information would not be in a line across the pad because other important information such as a trial scheduling issue might be covered before residence locations would be discussed. With the template every jurors residence is in one row, making access easier and more reliable.
I also used slide menus for age estimates in decades, since generally speaking asking a prospective juror her age is a recipe for disaster.
Note that in the example above age is reflected as twenty, but the juror has lived in South Florida (Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties primarily) for twenty five years. Age is estimated in decades in this template.
Few residents have lived in South Florida their whole lives. Most judges will make inquiry about length of residence during the court’s voir dire. I use a slide response since it really doesn’t matter if it is eight years or eleven, I am looking for the degree of ties to the community. For instance, over forty percent of South Florida residents today did not live here during Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which was until Katrina the most destructive hurricane in history. In one case years ago, a witness claimed a certain event occurred on a particular August day. In closing argument I showed a NOAA map recording the passage of Hurricane Andrew on that very day. I wanted jurors who would remember how destructive that storm was and who would know how long it was before it was business as usual.
Other questions in my template are peculiar to my practice. However it is easy enough to change the questions to fit cases, and to save those changes as your own template using the “File” menu in Numbers.
One thing I like to ask at either pretrial or calendar call is how the court conducts voir dire. By this I want to know how big a panel will be ordered and where the jurors will sit, and in how many rows. If I have this information I can prepare my seating chart before I enter the courtroom. However, even if I don’t the template allows me to easily create one even as the panel is being led into the gallery.
When you start a new document in Numbers, it creates a table with thirteen columns. Columns can be easily added or subtracted from the table, but most jury boxes put between six and nine seat in a seating row. Since each column represents a juror, I cut the number of columns to match the seat diagram with an extra column on the left for standard questions.
It is important to know where the first juror will sit. Juror number one will often be in the first seat of a row closest to the judge, but not always. Once I know where juror number one will be, I can give each seat a number. It is easy to delete or add rows in Numbers. As a result each table will represent one seating row. New tables are added simply by copying the first table, pasting and then adjusting the seating capacity of the second and/or third rows. This process works even when overflow jurors are placed in the court’s seating gallery.
The following illustration shows sixteen prospective jurors sitting in two rows. In this configuration the jury box is most likely to the judge’s left. If it were reversed the numbering would be reversed as well.
Along the bottom of the screen, certain information may be highlighted in green or red. Based on a juror’s overall response I give each panel member a quick overall assessment of suitability. A juror I really want will get a high enough assessment to get a “green light“, where as the one’s of whom I have the most concerned will get a “red light.” The template automatically highlights these panel members.
Finally I have a question with a drop down menu to tract peremptory and challenges for cause. I have not attempted to create any capacity to automatically configure the jury box based on challenges. I presume it is possible, however given the prevalence of back-striking in our state courts (a practice generally disallowed in U.S. District Court) and the number of jurors that may ultimately be seated in federal court, I rely on my ability to count to help me visualize who will ultimately be seated in the box.
Jury selection remains a critical part of a trial lawyer’s job. Years ago, lawyers were given basic information about a prospective venire a week or so in advance. Most trial lawyers today, except those who have tried highly publicized cases in which selection questionnaires were utilized, never see even the names of panel members until they are brought to the courtroom. What follows is an often hurried process in which selection error possibilities dramatically increase.
Templates cannot substitute for experience and skill during voir dire. But a jury selection template can simplify and routinize the process, and that creates a bit more time for a lawyer to focus on the panel with an eye towards selecting the best possible jury on any given day.
You can download a copy of the Jury Selection Template in Numbers format by clicking HERE.
G. Ware Cornell Jr. is a Board Certified Civil Trial Lawyer in Weston, Florida where he primarily practices employment law with the firm of Cornell & Associates P.A. He is a graduate of Emory University, the University of Georgia School of Law, and served as the first senior law clerk for United States District Judge William M. Hoeveler in the Southern District of Florida upon his investiture in 1977. Mr. Cornell was recently selected as a Fellow of the Litigation Counsel of America, a trial lawyers’ honorary society.