Late in November I received a jury duty notice from the Northern Illinois Federal District Court. My initial response was a groan when I realized I was being asked to spend the two weeks before Christmas week fulfilling a civic duty. I think a common response to jury duty notices is, Why me? Mine was very much the same. But after some thought I accepted the fact that it was indeed an important responsibility. If some day I was in court relying on a jury to determine my fate wouldn't I want a jury composed of responsible impartial jurors? Plus it was an opportunity to learn and grow for this experience would provide an opportunity to assess a “new to me” process using lean thinking.
Because the pittance paid to jurors for fulfilling their civic duty barely covers the cost of parking in downtown Chicago I decided to take the Metra rail line into the city each morning. I have traveled by train in Europe, China and Australia and all those experiences were good ones. Not so on the Metra - I rode the train for five days and the train was delayed on two occasions and was cancelled on a third. Much of the Metra experience was a relic of the past highlighted by the conductor using a hand-held hole punch to stamp every ticket. Aren’t we on our third or fourth generation of bar codes? I had to chuckle each day as I hummed the catchy Metra media ad campaign slogan, "Metra, the way to really fly!"
When I arrived at the federal district court building I was confronted with a large group of video camera crews both outside and inside the courthouse. They were there awaiting the arrival of the former Illinois governor who was to be sentenced that day for his conviction on corruption charges. This reinforced the need for all of us to respond positively when called to be a juror.
That first afternoon I and the other 70 potential jurors were called to a courtroom where some of us were interviewed for a jury. The jury selection process was an interesting one. The judge was a very knowledgeable and at times even funny woman who made the process interesting. She questioned each of us with similar (Do you watch those CSI type police and lawyer shows on TV?) but at times different questions depending on our responses. The following morning the jury selection process was completed and I found myself on a jury for the first time. I have to admit I was kind of excited given this opportunity to learn about and experience a trial.
The case was a civil case - a suit against the city of Chicago. Claims of false arrest and malice were the grounds for the suit. One thing that became clear early on is that both legal teams used witnesses to unfold two different stories about what had occurred. Somebody was not telling the truth and we would have to use this divergent evidence to make our decisions. The lawyers, rather than ask “why” 5 times to get to root cause like a lean thinker, asked leading questions that allowed the witnesses to often just respond with a yes or no answer. The witness questioning process appeared scripted and rehearsed.
After two days of testimony the closing arguments were presented and we were sent to the jury room Friday afternoon where we surrendered our cell phones and began our deliberation with a marshal stationed outside the door. The jury composed of eight unique individuals with different life experiences, education levels, and prejudices was directed by the judge to come to a unanimous decision based on the evidence presented. For the first few hours the conversations were all over the place with individuals recalling and re-stating what they believed they heard in the courtroom. Everyone seemed to be wrestling with the challenge of defining the truth from the contradictory testimony we had heard. This is when I offered up a lean tool to help us all gain some focus and come to consensus on what had occurred. I suggested we process map the steps of the situation that was described in the court room. As we did this we could make our consensus decisions on those smaller steps which would help us reach our final conclusions. Process mapping exercises are intended to engage individuals and narrow their focus and that is exactly what happened to this jury. We rather quickly finalized our decision on the false arrest charge and went home late Friday afternoon to begin our weekend.
Whenever we as humans are engaged in something that requires a difficult decision it is difficult for us to let go and not think about the situation. Much of my weekend was spent deliberating the case until about at 3:00am on Sunday morning I reached my personal decision on both counts. I was then able to let it go and enjoy my Sunday without thought of the case. Monday we returned to our jury room and spent the morning coming to agreement on the claim of malice. By 1:00 we had completed out deliberation and the marshal notified the judge. We returned to the court room where the judge read the results of our deliberation. She then asked us to join her in her chambers where we were invited to ask questions and answer some she had for us. She also presented us with certificates to recognize our fulfillment of a civic duty. When we left her chamber we were greeted by two of the defendant’s lawyers. They too had some questions about the key points we had used to make our decisions. It seemed to me that the judge and the defendant’s lawyers were as interested in the process as they were in the outcome. They appeared to be process thinkers who were completing Deming’s PDCA cycle without the awareness of what that means.
During jury selection the judge noted that often jurors who are put off by the disruption to their life caused by jury duty often state that it was a wonderful experience when it is over. She couldn’t have been more accurate. From my perspective it was a wonderfully engaging and educational experience that I thoroughly enjoyed. I hope you have the same opportunity some day if you haven’t already. And if you do, utilize some of your lean thinking tools to make the jury deliberation process a better process.
Have a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year.