A tough and sometimes controversial job: The Jury, by John Morgan painted in 1861).

A tough and sometimes controversial job: The Jury, by John Morgan (painted in 1861).

Juries simply fascinate us—like an uncle who is typically wise but occasionally demented. All in all, though, he’s the one we go to when we need advice.

Recently, a slew of material has flooded my way regarding juries, good and bad. And I could use your help.

I’ve been collaborating with an attorney on an article about cameras in the courtroom, and how they may affect jurors and other participants. We are covering a lot of ground, but it still would be nice to land on an insightful and local angle that illuminates the topic in new ways.

What do you think of cameras in the courtroom? And more specifically, what angle or hook would lead you to read a story that has percolated nationwide for decades?

Meanwhile, a colleague shared a dialogue he had heard regarding state laws that prohibit jurors from making money (from books or interviews) after a trial. The question arose during Florida’s prosecution of George Zimmerman in Trayvon Martin’s death. But after sitting through months of an Arizona trial of Jodi Arias, we wonder about the same thing here.

We are all accustomed to laws denying convicted people the opportunity to profit from their own stories. But restrictions on jurors are less often discussed; usually they come to light after major prosecutions, such as those against O. J. Simpson or the Menendez brothers. A recent story details what a Florida legislator proposed in the panhandle state. The law:

“would make it a third-degree felony for jurors to sell their stories within 270 days of serving on a jury. State Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando, said the law would also apply to media organizations who try to pay jurors for their stories. It would not prohibit jurors from speaking freely without compensation or payment.”

The news squib is here. So under the law jurors would be free to speak with the trial’s lawyers, but could not sell their stories. What do you think?

Judge Sherry Stephens presided over the Jodi Arias trial, which involved issues of juror speech and cameras in the courtroom. Here, she urges the jury to continue deliberating after the jury delivered a message that they were deadlocked on a penalty for Arias, May 22, 2013. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Rob Schumacher, Pool)

Judge Sherry Stephens presided over the Jodi Arias trial, which involved issues of juror speech and cameras in the courtroom. Here, she urges the jury to continue deliberating after the jury delivered a message that they were deadlocked on a penalty for Arias, May 22, 2013. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Rob Schumacher, Pool)

Meantime, you may recall the story of the judge who put a gag order on jury members, and it affected their speech, to anyone, whether or not for pay. The article was from way back in 1998, ancient history. But I do not know if the unique order, which was upheld by the Fifth Circuit, was ever overturned.

It is a curious idea, the one where judges feel the need to protect the nebulous “judicial system,” even if it infringes on First Amendment rights. How many jurors expect that a do-not-talk order will continue for days, months and years after a trial is complete?

(A more rare instance—in which a juror is retained as a trial consultant in a retrial of the original case—is discussed here. Also examined is what’s known as the Juror Integrity Act.)

Another article from the early 2000’s explains how a gag order was enforced until after the appeals. And it overtly affected both the media and the lawyers.

Here is a nice summary of the law on the topic of juror speech.

Both of these topics—cameras in the courtroom and juror speech—implicate substantial constitutional issues. When the right to free speech runs hard against the right to a fair trial, the second should win. But the facts may not be so bald, and judges and legislators must craft solutions that aid both.

Do those topics interest you? If so, what magazine story approach would cause you to say, “Wow. That’s surprising”?

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Yesterday, I was looking for something on the CNN website (good luck) when I came across their recently omnipresent viewer-discretion warning about the Jodi Arias trial. Here’s a screen-grab (the big honking arrow is mine, though the station bosses might decide they like it).

CNN's Jodi Arias trial viewer-discretion warning

CNN’s Jodi Arias trial viewer-discretion warning

I’ve watched a bit of the Arias trial, but not much. Given the questions I’ve received from friends and colleagues around the country (usually beginning, “Let me get this straight …”), it’s helpful for me to know something about the case facts.

Long after those facts are adjudicated, though, the complex legal issues will be debated (probably with no viewer-discretion warning required). And even beyond that, we’ll assess the effectiveness of juror questions.

Yes, there have been a few tawdry inquiries from those colleagues around the country. But more often, I have been surprised at the number of them who have asked about juror questions: “You allow that in Arizona?”

Arizona Attorney Magazine cover, February 2001

Arizona Attorney Magazine cover, February 2001

Indeed we do, as well as note-taking and some other semi-unique elements.

The number of juror questions posed in this trial may be remarkable, but the fact that they may inquire at all has been a part of Arizona jurisprudence for a long time now.

For some background on that, you should read “O Pioneer,” our 2001 article about then-Judge Michael Dann. He and others were leaders in initiatives to transform the jury process. Other states have participated, but Arizona was (and is) a leader.

Posted on their website, the Arizona Supreme Court has the remarkable original report (from 1994 and 1998) called “The Power of 12.” It’s in two parts, here and here. It was drafted by the Court’s Committee on the More Effective Use of Juries.

For more recent coverage of courts that permit juror questions, go here. As the story opens:

“A small number of states have changed their laws and court rules to allow jurors to ask witnesses questions, either orally or in writing through the judge. Written questions submitted in advanced allow attorneys for both sides to make objections based either on the ground they would violate the rules governing the admission of evidence or would result in prejudice against their clients.”

Michael Dann, former Judge on the Superior Court for Maricopa County

Michael Dann, former Judge on the Superior Court for Maricopa County

“The states that expressly encourage judges to allow jurors to question witnesses are Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Nevada and North Carolina. Out of these jurisdictions, Arizona, Florida, and Kentucky require that judges allow jurors to ask written questions. The respective highest state courts of Indiana and Kentucky have ruled jurors have a right to ask questions of witnesses.”

But changes like this can lead to unpredictable results. You should read this Washington Post story from 2007, titled “Jurors’ Queries Yield Insights—and Laughs,” which opens with a humorous anecdote showing that jurors may focus on areas that counsel may find irrelevant:

“Former New York Times reporter Judith Miller was on the witness stand yesterday and a juror wanted to know why she had decided to go to jail for 85 days before agreeing to testify about her conversations with I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby.”

“Another juror had a different kind of question for Miller about her notes from a conversation with Libby: Was storing notebooks in a large shopping bag under her desk her standard method for saving her notes?”

“So the jurors asked.”

For trial lawyer readers, have you found juror questions to be a feature that improves the process? Have you found queries annoying? Or have they given you an opportunity to clarify issues that may be blocking a jury decision?

Write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

Park Howell

Park Howell, always looking up.

I sure love a good story.

That’s why, back in November, I found myself sitting in a Phoenix conference room chatting with a small group of people about how best to interest others in our story and to persuade listeners or readers to act on our story.

The conference room was at the advertising firm Park & Co., and the workshop was nimbly led by the firm’s principal, Park Howell. (He blogs here; more on that in a bit.)

He is an adept storyteller himself, and he walked the group through the steps of crafting a tale that leads readers and viewers to a conclusion. In the workshop, he used a 68-year-old video to demonstrate that “the brain is helpless to the suction of story.”

Confused? Here is how Park Howell describes it:

“In 1944, psychologists Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel created this animated film to test the brain’s compunction to create stories, even out of the most crude stimuli. Of the 114 people that watch this short film, 113 of them knitted together a story of what was happening, and only one said it was just shapes moving around a screen.”

That video and Park’s words struck a chord with me, and I think they would do the same with anyone who has ever argued to a jury. As jury consultant Dru Sherrod told us in a recent Arizona Attorney Magazine, “Jurors bring to the trial this whole lifetime of collected stored scripts. When jurors hear something in the trial that evokes a stored script, they immediately map that life experience onto the trial information.”

So we know on an intellectual level that “story model research” is correct when it instructs about the power of stories to persuade. But practice is what’s needed—and what Howell offered our small group.

park & co logoOn this Change of Venue Friday, I invite you to see more of the stories he spins in his own blog. Whether you are interested in sustainability, marketing or simply in stories well told, take a look. I’m suspecting you may opt to bookmark his insights or opt for the RSS feed.

A recent post of his reminded me that the use of the word “green” may be getting a bit green around the gills. What’s needed, he argues, are not mere catch-phrases, but “genuine stories of sustainability.” True enough, I think, for every industry, including law.

After reading that, head over to his firm’s “Backstories” page, where you can see a selection of the impressive work they have done for clients, many in the most sustainable of industries.

Have a great weekend.

Everett Dirksen

“A billion here, a billion there. Pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”

Illinois senator Everett Dirksen may or may not have uttered that pithy phrase. But either way, it came to mind as I read the news yesterday afternoon that a jury had returned a $10 million verdict against Taser International.

Even in today’s inflated world, I think of that as a lot of money. And so I expected pretty solid coverage of the jury’s decision.

I needed that because I wanted to link to the news on the brand-new Arizona Attorney Magazine News Center. Taser’s an Arizona company, they came up on the short end of a legal case, it all made newsy sense.

But as I searched for a solid story on it, all I came up with were … company press releases.

The first link I saw came from a respected business weekly. The headline about $10 million grabbed me. But the story sounded like Taser’s PR department had penned it. It appeared to be factual, but the entire focus was on the number of jury verdicts they have won, and on the plaintiff arguments that the jury rejected.

Hmm, I thought. There has to be something better out there.

But after about 30 minutes of searching, I’ve come across the same release about 20 times, all posted as news by multiple publishers. I really have to hand it to Taser’s web-optimization people.

This occurred the same day that news-ish mogul Rupert Murdoch was hammered with a cream pie as he testified to Parliament. We here in the States appear to take great pride in the assertion that journalists here would never engage in such phone-hacking behavior.

Rupert Murdoch's hit a bad patch.

I think they’re right. But our web-ified news regime deserves a cream pie of its own. Passing off press releases as news was considered poor form even before the Internet. But the Web has intensified the scramble for content. And corporate PR mills appear happy to fill the gap.

As for linking to the story, I’ve decided to wait 24 hours. I’m sure I’ll find something of value tomorrow. It’ll keep.