Jury Duty, Rank Stupidity, Screw-Ups, State Judges, Trials

Murder Trial Jury Selection Turns into Gossip Girls; Everyone Loses

The hot topics in jury misconduct these days are mostly about jurors who over-share or over-research cases on the internet or social media. Everyone is legitimately concerned about what jurors find online about the cases they hear. Sometimes big-time attorneys even get lambasted by judges for allowing certain information to be published in the media — even though jurors have already been instructed not to look at at any press.

But that doesn’t mean old-school water-cooler gossip has disappeared from the list of headaches uncooperative jurors can cause. In Florida this week, a high-profile, extraordinarily slow-moving murder case was delayed yet again after the judge dismissed the entire jury selection pool because of excessive pick a little talk a little cheep cheep cheep

The Tampa Bay Tribune has the most recent update in the case of Dontae Morris, who has been awaiting trial on murder charges for more than two years:

A sense of crushing disappointment pervaded the courtroom of Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Fuente as he sent home about 70 potential jurors after learning that many had ignored his order not to talk about Morris while waiting through a weeklong selection process.

Fuente didn’t single out any jurors for gossiping, but said, “If you did, you know who you are. You should be ashamed.”

This is terrible. I can imagine the scene in my head, and it’s pretty much exactly the same as the tongue-telephone pole lecture in A Christmas Story: “Those who did it know their blame, and I’m sure the guilt you feel is far worse than any punishment you might receive. Now, don’t you feel terrible?”

It’s interesting that, although some of the jurors could face misconduct charges, Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Fuente seems to be handling the situation similarly to Miss Shields, giving “no indication” of planning any action against them.

It almost seems like the judge is simply bummed out about having to fire all the prospective jurors. The judge didn’t even out the specific offending jurors in court. That’s what you call judicial restraint.

It sounds like everyone involved is exhausted and just wants to be done with the case, even though Morris still has three more murder trials to go (you have to give Judge Fuentes some credit; he’s not taking his frustration at the delays out on the litigants, unlike the less patient judge in the Apple Samsung trial). I could understand if they were too tired to be angry.

But perhaps some of these jurors should get their heads checked, or at least take a social skills/manners class:

The judge said he spent a long night wrestling over his decision after 16 jurors reported Tuesday that they had either participated in or overheard gossip about Morris, even though the judge gave each of them a written order not to talk about the defendant. One offending juror confessed, “I guess I don’t have good self-control.”

That’s some pretty high-level self-assessment there, bucko. Maybe you should work on that. We all know jury duty is a little boring, but come on, keep your mouth shut and stop wasting a lot of other people’s time.

My condolences to everyone on the legal side who will still have to deal with this for the next seven millennia. To the jurors who apparently couldn’t tell the difference between the courthouse and the coffee shop, boo hiss!

Gossip scuttles Dontae Morris trial; Hillsborough judge dismisses jury pool [Tampa Bay Times]

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