Introduction & Overview

How important is the jury component to the health of our justice system, and how important is that system to the health of our nation?  If your answer to both of those questions is “very high,” we have something to talk about.  If you were at a loss for words, or even angry over verdicts in cases like O.J. Simpson and Casey Anthony, we’re on the same page.  That’s why I wrote Fixing the Engine of Justice – Diagnosis and Repair of Our Jury System.

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Like a lot of people, I was extremely disappointed in the outcome of the O.J. Simpson trial.  Following the disastrous performance by a deputy coroner at pre-trial hearing and at the suggestion of L.A. County District Attorney Gil Garcetti, I was hired by the L.A. County Coroner’s Office to teach the skills of expert witnessing.

Near the end of the trial, I was hired as an on-air guest by KABC TV in Los Angeles.  I sat at the news desk with the hosts of all the news broadcasts in the afternoon and evening, commenting on the trial events of that day.  As I sit here now, I can’t remember what I said on that newscast following the verdict, but I remember the struggle to keep up appearances for the sake of the program.  Not a good day for me.  A television appearance requires one to be politically correct and dignified.  That was not my mood.

At the time of the verdict, I had been a trial consultant for about six years, so I already had opinions about the major problems of the jury system and what some of the solutions should be.  I shared what became the basic points of this book on a TV talk show soon after the O.J. case, along with fellow guest Judge Burton Katz, lead prosecutor in the Manson case and author of Justice Overruled.  I’m cited in his book and he in mine, but his came out a scant two years after the trial, while researching mine took sixteen years, during which time I collected additional references from my case history, but mostly from the media.  This was a daily activity over coffee at the local cafes – lots of years, lots of coffee and many more examples of Simpson-like verdicts that stirred up the same debate over the adequacies of our jury system.  The Casey Anthony verdict, for example, came in as I was in the process of finalizing the work.

Some of the trials I include in the book you will remember, others not, but they were all collected with two questions in mind: “What do they tell us about our jury system?” and, just as importantly, “What are our attitudes about our jury system?”

I believe Fixing the Engine of Justice is the first book to identify American jury system problems, in a comprehensive way, and to propose specific trial jury reforms for each of the problems. In any case, while there are many works on the jury system, some of which offer criticism and solutions, I could find none that covered the field and problems as I see them, nor are there any I have seen that offer a comprehensive list of solutions.  As you read the book, I believe you will see it was written with three guiding principles:

  1. Jury duty is just that: a duty, not a right.
  2. Not every potential juror is suited to sit on every case.
  3. A “fair trial,” as called for in our Constitution, is fair for both sides.

In Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Atticus Finch said of the court system, “I’m no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and in the jury system – that is no ideal to me, it is a living, working reality. Gentlemen, a court is no better than each man of you sitting before me on this jury. A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up.”  I have to go along with that.  The reader will find this book to show a system beset with representation issues, incompetence, bias, misconduct, lack of support and public perceptions based on misconceptions.  Those issues, as well as the flaws in the jury selection process, have been analyzed for their contributions to the delivery of justice.

Fixing the Engine of Justice was written over a period of sixteen years.  With the general public in mind, I tried to approach the subject with a sense of humor, and I’ll admit to a degree of irreverence, but the work offers those in the legal profession, including education, with scholarly research and analysis. The focus is on the jury system, but role judges and attorneys play in the system is also addressed.

If you read the book as a member of the general public, I hope you will take the lessons of the book with you if you ever sit on a jury.  If you read it as a lawyer or law school student, my hope is that in your capacities as players in the legal industry, you will help effect the changes we need.  The book is an American jury system review that makes the case that the health of the system is more important than the existence of my job or your job. In any case, I look forward to the debate; no doubt there are many legal professionals and layman alike that have important insights to contribute.  As I have offered specific criticisms and remedies, my hope is that reactions from readers will be likewise.  More minds at work on the problem should mean better solutions for this vital component of our society.

 

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