Cases of alleged corporate wrongdoing seem to be providing some
less-than-great moments in American jurisprudence.
After six months of testimony and 11 days of deliberations, the
grand-larceny trial of two former Tyco executives ended Friday when
a state supreme court judge in New York declared a mistrial. Such an
end had loomed for days as reports surfaced about jury-room
infighting focused on one juror in particular - No. 4 - and
ballooned into a media and Internet-chat-room frenzy in which the
juror's name was revealed.
Two days earlier, a defense lawyer in the federal trial that
convicted Martha Stewart March 5 on counts including obstruction of
justice charged that a juror in that case - one who called the
verdict "a victory for the little guys" - failed to disclose during
jury selection that he had been charged with assault in 1997.
Experts doubt the lawyer's call for a retrial will be heeded.
Close observers of the jury system caution against viewing these
high-profile events as signs of some broad devolution, and say most
jurors - including, for all they know, the holdout in the Tyco case -
display an honest devotion to their task.
Still, several also point to social trends that help explain
emerging shifts in juror behavior. And some predict more turmoil if
the court system fails to adapt.
"We have a lot of highly publicized cases, and with highly
publicized cases people tend to form opinions," says Jeff Frederick,
director of jury research at Charlottesville National Legal Research
Group in Virginia. "There is concern about the possibility of jurors
coming in with a little bit more of a fixed notion of what they want
In part, the phenomenon may reflect the times, say some experts.
Corporate scandals like Enron can make malfeasance cases appear to
be opportunities to dispense social justice.
"You get in there [as a juror], and you want to help the little
guy," says Gillian Drake, founder and director of On Trial
Associates, a legal consultancy in Chevy Chase, Md. Lawyers leverage
such feelings. In the Stewart case, for example, "the prosecution
knew it was the jury issue, not the legal issue, so they played up
the jury issue, which was class consciousness. They took advantage
of that. There are jury issues and there are legal issues ... [and]
depending on which side you're on, sometimes you're trying to blend
them and sometimes you're trying to keep them separate," she adds.
The majority of jurors are not likely to let message delivery
become their primary motivation, says David Ball, president of
JuryWatch in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.
He cites the Tyco case, in which the use of company funds by
former executives to pay for private excesses was alleged. "Let's
say that I get outraged by that," says Mr. Ball. "I might then tend
to see the rest of the evidence in its worst light for that person,
but I'm not about to send him away to jail for the rest of his life
because of a [$15,000] umbrella stand."
But Ms. Drake, who has been conducting a series of postverdict
jury surveys in her state, says she's been surprised by a trend
she's noted."These juries, if they don't get it, [don't] really,
totally understand, they basically decide on what's [socially] fair,
as opposed to what's [legally] just," she says. …