Thursday, August 8, 2013

Mock Trial

The two lawyers completed their closing statements, the judge gave us our instructions and then it was up to us, the jury, to make a decision. For any of you who have been on a jury, it can be an interesting, boring and difficult job all rolled into one. As a mystery writer, I always want to be called to be on a jury, but because I want to do it, I’m never called. My wife recently received a letter indicating she needed to contact the county courthouse after five p.m. on a Friday to see if she would need to show up the following Monday to be a potential jurist. She did not want to do it, whereas I would have coveted the opportunity. When she didn’t have to go, she was relieved.

So to overcome my jury envy, I signed up to be a jurist in a mock trial. A friend of mine had signed up to serve on a mock jury and told me about it. I called and got the last slot. Under the wire. The organization putting on the mock trial was the National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA) located right here in Boulder, Colorado. It’s an organization that trains lawyers, and one of the training programs is to put on mock trials.

When I showed up and after being plied with sweet rolls and fruit, I was assigned to a room for the trial. Two teams of two lawyers each represented the plaintiff and defendant in a civil litigation case over a contract dispute. One company had accused another of violating a contract clause on exclusivity of technology. The defendant claimed that the exclusivity only applied to improvements to the original product and not a new product. So one item of dispute was whether the follow on product was an improvement or a completely new product. Then a second issue was over a right of first refusal. The company providing the technology had to provide the other company an opportunity to meet or exceed any offer made for a new technology. The technology provider contracted with another company, notified the licensing company, that company responded, but there was a dispute over whether this response met the offer or was a counter offer.

All this may sound boring, but since I negotiated contracts in the high tech world for a number of years before I retired to write mystery novels, I found the debate interesting. The lawyers presented their cases and called witnesses. The scenario was well-crafted in providing a situation that was not clearly in favor of one party or the other.

After the case was turned over to the jury, we discussed it and voted. A civil case requires a majority not a unanimous jury as in a criminal case. We voted for the plaintiff, deciding that the second product was an improvement and not a completely new product.

Then we had an opportunity to give the lawyers feedback. How many times do you have a chance to critique an attorney? They listened and took our feedback. But, hey, that’s why they were in the program—to become better lawyers. Much like we writers seek feedback from our critique groups. It all helps us improve.

An enjoyable day. I learned a lot, had a free lunch and even got paid for my time. Quite a concept—being paid to learn, while the lawyers were paying big bucks for their opportunity to learn.

Have you ever been on a jury and if so what was your experience?

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