Daniel Wolfe, J.D., Ph.D.
Senior Director of Jury Consulting
Magna Legal Services
Are Jurors Too Scared to Serve?
Despite the delta variant causing a surge of cases among both unvaccinated and vaccinated individuals, some jury consultants say the majority of potential jurors appear comfortable serving.
Daniel Wolfe, senior director of jury consulting for Magna Legal Services, suspects some people just want to get back to a sense of normalcy, and jury duty feels like one way to do that.
He said jurors seem to find peace and comfort from the fact that “people weren’t still walking around on broken glass and pins and needles around the pandemic, that they were just like, ‘Let’s go, folks, we’re ready to get back to doing things. We’ve got business to do.’”
“Some people just want to get back to a sense of normalcy, and jury duty feels like one way to do that.“
Who Is Serving on Juries?
Magna’s Daniel Wolfe said certain populations of people are more reluctant to come in for jury duty. “Those who identify as Democrat are more reluctant, and you can see this because the narrative around the pandemic has become so politicized.”
He has also found that millennials, those under the age of 35, are also less likely to appear for jury duty. People who consider themselves more at risk for COVID-19 don’t show up or raise hardships and get excused, he said. In one case, Wolfe said, they sent out 300 juror questionnaires and only got back 45.
In a case in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Wolfe said four out of the 70 prospective jurors were teachers, and every one of them also expressed that their schools were short-staffed and their bosses told them they needed to be in class.
“Those who identify as Democrat are more reluctant, and you can see this because the narrative around the pandemic has become so politicized.”
In that case, the judge said, “the school districts are big, they can find people, it’s not a hardship,” he said. Ultimately, he only excluded 10 out of 70 jurors for hardship. He saw a judge respond to the same arguments in a different case by saying, “My wife’s a teacher, so I get it,” and excused them.
Wolfe has seen essential workers, especially health care workers, raise similar hardships. “I’ve seen a couple of times where you could just see the horrible angst on these people’s faces,” he said. “They’re so overwrought and exhausted, and the judge was just like, ‘You don’t need to be here. You’ve got better things to do.’ So it was really more sympathy than it was hardship. It was purely just a compassionate decision by the judges.”
“I’ve seen a couple of times where you could just see the horrible angst on these people’s faces. They’re so overwrought and exhausted, and the judge was just like, ‘You don’t need to be here. You’ve got better things to do.’ So it was really more sympathy than it was hardship. It was purely just a compassionate decision by the judges.”
Besides professional caretakers, people who tell judges that they are caring for someone who is sick with COVID-19 or still recovering almost always get excused, he said.
How Are Juror Demographics Affecting Verdicts?
Wolfe said the older, more conservative juries result in more defense verdicts in certain types of cases. Wolfe believes the national narrative of personal responsibility that has only heightened during the pandemic has also contributed to less plaintiff-friendly juries.
“We’ve seen juries be much more harsh and critical of plaintiffs than they were pre-pandemic, particularly where there’s a contributory negligence claim, because they’re just holding these individuals to a higher standard, more responsibility,”
The other factor driving defense verdicts, he said, is because most of the cases that have been tried have been three days or less. Once larger, more catastrophic injury cases go to trial, he expects to see a reversal of that trend. “Whether it goes back to normal—whatever that is—I don’t know. But we’re going to see the pendulum swing back a bit because of that,” he said.