In the News Chicago Daily Law Bulletin

A Rare Opportunity to Think Inside the Box

What do an assistant U.S. attorney and a trusts and estates lawyer have in common?

Both served on the jury for a recent personal-injury trial in Cook County Circuit Court.

"It strikes me as rare any time a lawyer with trial experience is seated on a jury," said Randall A. Samborn, the federal prosecutor who served as a jury member during a two-day auto-accident trial in late April.

"On the first day, I wasn't quite sure exactly what to think about how things would work out," he said.  "But I didn't have any doubt that I could be fair and impartial in deciding the case."

Samborn is the director of public affairs for the U.S. attorney's office for the Northern District of Illinois.  He said he has not litigated a jury trial since about four years ago when he handled the prosecution in a bank robbery case.

He became a federal prosecutor in Chicago in 1995 after serving as a state prosecutor in Ohio in the late 1980s, during which time he said he tried about 10 jury trials.

Samborn said he does not expect to handle many more jury cases because he is busy with his duties as the spokesperson for the local U.S. attorney's office, but the experience of serving as a juror did help confirm his faith in the judicial system.

"It certainly affirmed my belief that jurors are able to use their common sense and apply that to the issues and do the right thing," Samborn said.  "It was also a nice opportunity to see how a state.trial functions, which I don't really have experience with [in Illinois] even with all of my experience in the federal court."

Kirkland & Ellis partner David A. Handler also served on the jury with Samborn.  Handler said he has not litigated many cases during his 11-year legal career in which he has concentrated in trusts, estate planning and tax law matters.

"I guess [the attorneys in this trial] felt that I was far enough removed from the issues that it would be OK to have me serve on the jury," Handler said.  "They asked me [during jury selection] if I could be fair, and I said yes.

"They also asked me in voir dire if I would be listening to the testimony rather than listening to the attorneys' approach [at arguing the case]," he added.  "I said I'd probably do a little bit of both - and I suppose I was evaluating their style a little bit."

Handler said the case involved a married couple who had sustained minor injuries when their car was struck from behind.  They were suing the defendant's insurance company for reimbursement for medical bills, loss of wages and pain and suffering.

"I didn't know until the end - during closing arguments - how much they were suing for," Handler said.  "They were suing for $10,000 each, and I remember thinking that this is a lot more than $10,000 worth of [the jurors'] time."

Nonetheless, Handler, who served as the foreman of the jury, said he believes the experience was valuable for all of the jurors- even those who were initially a little upset to be away from their families and their jobs.  The 12 members comprised a "congenial group" that worked efficiently at reaching a verdict, he said.

"The most interesting part about it is when you're sitting and listening to the trial, you have no idea what your fellow jurors are thinking," Handler said.  "We deliberated for about 20 minutes and most of that was talking - I think we were in agreement within two minutes."

After deliberations, Handler reported to the court that the jury had reached a verdict in favor of the defense.

"We all perceived it the same way.  We didn't buy the plaintiffs' story, even though we all come from different backgrounds, locations and professions," Handler said.

Patrick A. Salvi, a personal-injury and medical malpractice litigator who is a name partner in Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard P.C., said he has selected juries in anywhere from 50 to 100 different trials.

He said he would be "very leery" of allowing an attorney to serve as a member of a jury in one of his trials.

"When you're picking a jury, one of the things you have to do is identify those people who are likely to be strong personalities and are, because of background or training, likely to be especially dominating or controlling of the other jurors," Salvi said.  "A lawyer would definitely fall within the category of a type of person that you have to be very careful about."

Salvi led a jury selection seminar last week in Chicago, during which he gave advice about different strategies for building juries during voir dire.  An important consideration, he said, is to avoid selecting any jurors who might have too much influence over others on the panel.

"The lay jurors might put too much stock and weight into the opinions of a lawyer on a jury," Salvi said.  "Then, rather than trying the case before 12 more objective people, you might end up putting all your eggs into the basket of one juror."

Samborn said he and Handler tried to have each juror give equal input into the verdict in their case.

"We felt it was important that other people had their opportunity to speak before we did so we wouldn't seem too overbearing on the rest of the group," Samborn said.  "I was not surprised, but was very pleased that as every other person spoke, it was immediately apparent that the 10 lay jurors brought their common sense to the case and were able to seize upon the relevant issues.

"I was also pleased," he added, "that it was a simple case and I was able to get back to work."

This article is reprinted with permission from the May 5, 2003 issue of The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin © LBPC 2003.