We, the Jury….raise $1,000!

June 15, 2008

Had the opportunity (yes, opportunity) to serve on a jury this week, and through the process, the one constant thought that kept crawling into my head is how good or bad everyone’s poker face was in the courtroom.

Let me backtrack a little bit and walk you through the process. Federal Court, so I’m “on call”, which means I didn’t have a set day that I definitely had to show up, instead I had to call in every night for a two-week period in which a recording would tell me whether I had to show up at 8 a.m. the next morning.

As luck would have it, I didn’t have to wait very long, and got called in on Day 2.

I also was selected in the first group of potential jurors to go in for jury selection on the court’s first case of the day. Everyone is so stoned-face at first…keeping their cards close to their chest. The lawyers – to the judges, to themselves, to the defendants and to us – are stoic as can be.

Anyway, at the end of the process, both the prosecution and defense gave me a somewhat disappointing “accept”, and the rest is history. Just call me juror #5. Actually, you can call me Foreman, since that’s what the other jurors decided.

This trial gave me a taste of how lawyers act toward you…and it was SO much like judging a competitor across the poker table. They know what they’re holding, and you both know they know what they’re holding…but their job is still to make you believe one way or another, or at the early stages just not reveal anything at all.

Then there was the unique angle of the prosecution acting as his own laywer. So, he had a tougher job of being directly connected to the event in question, and thus had to work even hard to convey a certain emotion or make a certain point. In other words, he couldn’t really “check raise” the same as the other professional lawyers could.

Then you come to the judge. The judge has not only a vested interest in wearing his best poker face throughout the proceedings, but he has a legal duty to do so. He can’t be seen or heard siding with either the prosecution or defense in terms of emotion or personal opinion…so he needs to keep his cards held tight to his black robe…hell he even has to play blind sometimes.

The court system does a very good job of holding your hand as a juror, knowing you probably haven’t been through any of this before and are quite impressionable…and most of this instruction comes from the judge. So if he at any point believes one side is holding a winning hand — and then through a gesture or passing comment or even a facial expression lets you as the jury know it — it would pretty much be a horrid breakdown of our judicial system as we know it.

Needless to say, this veteran judge was a master as keeping us in the dark as to what he was thinking. He was not only reserved in manner, but he was extremely patient, as well. Another key talent of a winning poker player, and something that can be harder to teach than betting, reading people or anything else.

I would not want to be facing the judge in a no-limit hold ‘em tournament. Either he’d clean me out or I’d win and end up going to jail. Either way, not so preferable.

And finally, I felt an obligation as a juror to wear my best poker face throughout the trial, as well. (Although it was difficult to hide my boredom during some of the more tedious parts). First, you don’t want something you say or your body language to affect how other jurors perceive the case thus far — it’s almost the same principle of not discussing the facts of the case until you’re actually in the deliberation room. Second, as a juror, you end up wanting to keep your feelings secret until the very end…it’s just the way it’s done.

I really found a strong connection between a courtroom and a poker table. The entire judicial process was new and interesting to me, but the similarity between a game of cards and a civil suit made me shake my head in absolute amazement.