Last Friday I earned $17.20 for a day’s work as a standby juror.  Standby jurors wait in a big room until they are put in a panel of 14 and sent into a courtroom for selection.  In civil trials, 6 jurors will be selected and seated from the 14.  I was rejected from two panels and then sent home.

The jury selection process is a little obscure, but I found this.  Here’s the model I glean from it.  The panel is numbered 1-14.  Lawyers for Plaintiff and Defendant each have 3 “peremptory” challenges which enables them to strike a juror from the panel.  The Plaintiff moves first and makes any peremptory challenges. This creates a provisional jury consisting of the 6 highest jurors on the list that have not been eliminated yet.  The Defendant can either accept this jury or use a challenge to strike one or more from it sending a new proposed jury, again consisting of the 6 highest jurors not yet struck, back to the Plaintiff.  This continues until someone accepts or all challenges are exhausted.

The game can be solved by backward induction.  I think something like the following is an optimal strategy.  First, when given a proposal of 6 jurors, rank them from least favorable to most.  To decide whether to strike the least favorable, ask whether her replacement will be stricken by the opposition (and any further replacements) and if so whether the final replacement will be better or worse than the least favorable now.  Of course you could always just strike the 3 least favorable in one go, but you are better off moving sequentially in hopes that the other guy makes a mistake and does it for you.

It gets more complicated when you take into account the challenges for “cause.”  These are challenges that require justification on the grounds that the juror is biased.  The possibility of challenges for cause explains why the panel has 14 rather than just 12.  And challenges for cause are evidently used a lot because on my second panel all but 3 jurors were excused.

In practice the jury selection is at least as much signaling as screening.  As if we were playing jury-Jeopardy, the lawyers sent messages phrased in the form of a question.  The defendant asked us “Does everybody understand that anyone can file a lawsuit if they pay a fee?”  The Plaintiff said “Does everyone understand that an insurance company has all the same rights as an individual?”  This is a kind of pre-opening statement.

I wonder whether it was the Plaintiff or Defendant that challenged me.  What they knew about me is that I am a Professor of Economics, the father of three kids, and that I drove a car over a mailbox when I was 16.  (Both of the cases were insurance claims arising out of an auto accident so they wanted to know.)

When I entered the first courtroom the Judge informed us that this case involved an insurance company.  I sized up the lawyers for the two sides.  I immediately pegged the Plaintiff as a sleazy ambulance chaser and the Defendant as a slick insurance company henchman whose life’s calling is to deprive the injured their just deserts (and instead send them to the Mojave for ice cream sundaes.)  The next thing we were told was that this was in fact a case in which the insurance company was suing a client.  So much for reading people by their faces.

The judges struck me as smarter than the attorneys.  (This based on talking with them, not just the looks on their faces 🙂 )

30% of my fellow standby jurors were unemployed.  60% were divorced or separated.