Jury Selection Follies

| Thu Sep. 16, 2010 1:49 PM EDT

Robert Lane Greene passes along an interesting case today. Apparently lawyers have taken to googling potential jurors during the jury selection process, leading to this exchange in a case a year ago:

THE COURT: Are you Googling these [potential jurors]?

[PLAINTIFFS COUNSEL]: Your Honor, there's no code law that says I'm not allowed to do that. I — any courtroom — 

THE COURT: Is that what you're doing?

[PLAINTIFFS COUNSEL]: I'm getting information on jurors — we've done it all the time, everyone does it. It's not unusual. It's not. There's no rule, no case or any suggestion in any case that says ...

THE COURT: No, no, here is the rule. The rule is it's my courtroom and I control it.

OK, two things. First, although I understand the need for judges to keep order, I've long been annoyed by their apparent belief that courtrooms are little fiefdoms to be ruled as they see fit. So I'm glad this particular exercise of arbitrary authority got overturned.

But second: can we please do away with lawyer-conducted voir dire completely? True, it produced my favorite John Grisham novel, but what a waste of time for everyone involved. Instead, let the judge do the questioning and allow the lawyers to intervene only if they have a substantive issue to present. Beyond that, just take the first twelve people who aren't plainly compromised in one way or another. It works in Britain, there's no reason it can't work here too, and I'll bet it would cut down on court time and costs by upwards of 10% or so. How about some help with this, small government types?

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