When Good Doctors Make Bad Decisions—The View from the Jury Box
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locate existing data that would enable a helpful comparison. With today’s technology, this happens far less often. (Ironically, in the pastor’s case one of the two prior sets of spine films was stored in the hospital’s computer and simply wasn’t noticed until later. Another set of films was stored off-site.) Of course, we weren’t allowed to take any of this into consideration as jurors—we were only allowed to look at the conditions pertaining in 2003.
3. Courthouses are still shockingly low-tech places, at least in Massachusetts. In the Suffolk County Courthouse—which was built in 1937 but is still called the “new” courthouse to distinguish it from the adjoining John Adams Courthouse, built in 1893—there are eight elevators, but only two of them were ever operating, as far as I could tell. Time itself seemed slower in the Superior Court: When we switched from standard time to daylight time in mid-March, it took several days for someone to come around and change the clock on the courtroom wall. The court reporters in Suffolk County are not equipped to create real-time transcripts, so it wasn’t possible for the judge or the attorneys to go back over the record, strike portions, or obtain transcripts until days or weeks later (by the end of the trial, though, it appeared that both sides had full transcripts of the testimony).
Neither the judge nor any of the attorneys were using laptops for their own work. (Now I know why they call them legal pads.) To provide us with a record of her final jury instructions, which included a lot of details about malpractice law, the judge, Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Nancy Staffier-Holtz, made a tape—using a portable cassette recorder that could not have been manufactured after 1980. In fact, the only people bringing modern technologies into the courtroom were the jurors. Every single one had an advanced feature phone or smartphone of some kind, which we used fervently during breaks to reconnect with the outside world. (Being careful not to discuss the case itself, of course.)
4. Surprisingly enough, being a journalist isn’t a get-out-of-jury-duty-free card. The previous two times that I’ve been called up for jury duty—once in Boston, once in San Francisco—the attorneys have used their peremptory challenges to excuse me almost instantly, and I figured it was because of either my profession or my degrees (Harvard BA, MIT PhD). But in this case, both the plaintiffs’ attorneys and the defendants’ were apparently comfortable with having independent thinkers in the jury box. Which leads to my next point…
5. We were a damn good jury. The highlight of this entire experience, for me, was the honor of serving with such smart, dedicated, and upstanding citizens as the 13 other jurors on this case. I am not being facetious—I’ve had some of my faith in democracy restored. What was especially interesting was that, for no reason I can make out, our jury was very young, not to mention very female—nine of the 14 jurors were women, and eight of the nine women were under 30 years old, as was one of the men. We spent a lot of time hanging out in the jury room during the breaks and the inevitable delays in the proceedings, and apart from the understandable grumbling about being assigned to a three-week trial, I found the other jurors to be some of the brightest, most attentive and articulate young people I’ve ever met outside of a university. Our final deliberations were careful, considered, and civilized. If I were ever unlucky enough to be appearing in court, whether as a plaintiff or a defendant, I’d want these people as my jurors.
Hearing about the pastor’s suffering day after day for three weeks; sharing the same hallways and the same elevators and the same courtroom with the pastor and his wife and the accused doctors; and then being asked to decide their fate—it all added up to a true bonding experience for the jury. After the verdicts were read and we were excused, 10 of us went out to a pub near the courthouse for beers—grateful that our service was over, but a little wistful too.
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