At some point around ninth grade, we’re essentially taught that “civic duty” is a synonym for “boring,” and that no civic duty is less interesting and more inconvenient than serving on a jury.
Thankfully, not everyone takes that lesson to heart. Most of the jurors on our juries are attentive, as interested as they can be (trial can get boring for the jury, particularly during voir dire of experts and testimony about the authentication of documents), and serious about their jobs.
But there’s a small segment out there Googling around for one of the 906,000 sites for “get out of jury duty.” Apparently not Larry Ellison, however, and not just because his company, Oracle, is suing Google. At the Mercury News:
In almost every way, it’s a routine lawsuit over a slip and fall at a Ford dealership.
Except for one $39.5 billion detail: Larry Ellison, Oracle CEO and Forbes Magazine’s fifth richest person in the world, is one of the 12 jurors.
Since Wednesday, the brash, opinionated tech icon has been in a Redwood City courtroom, hearing the case of Miramontes v. James Ford Inc. Donald and Elisa Miramontes filed a personal injury lawsuit after Elisa took a spill outside the Half Moon Bay Ford dealership in January 2009, when she stepped in diesel fuel that had leaked from inside the service center.
Ellison’s tour of jury duty is estimated to take five days, according to the San Mateo County electronic records system. Opening statements and testimony in the case began Wednesday, a clerk said. Court will be out of session Monday, resuming Tuesday.
How much is a week of Ellison’s time worth? More than $1.3 million. Do the math — his total compensation for last year was estimated at $70 million. That beats the $15 a day the court pays for jury duty, though it’s safe to say Oracle isn’t going to dock his pay.
Of course, it’s a heck of a lot easier for Ellison to fulfill his jury duty than it is for most people. What’s Oracle going to do, fire him? He’ll still get paid those same millions whether he’s on the jury or not.
The same isn’t true for everyone, as The Legal Intelligencer pointed out last week:
It was supposed to be a simple damages trial involving a UPS driver seeking $1.8 million for injuries after a beer truck hit her while she was delivering a package. But when the lawyers began voir dire, members of the jury pool began to protest.
“We pay too much,” one of them yelled. “There are too many lawsuits,” proclaimed another. Things devolved from there, according to lawyers for both sides, as additional prospective jurors joined in the catcalls.
“One lady actually said: ‘You mean you want me to sit here two weeks, and at the end of the two weeks I’m supposed to reward her for me sitting here not getting paid?'” said Jim Heiting, the plaintiffs’ lawyer in the case.
I don’t have sympathy for any of that. Everyone says there are “too many lawsuits” until they’re paralyzed by a drunk driver or an incompetent surgeon. There’s also nothing “rewarding” about being a plaintiff; the point in bringing a lawsuit, and in seeking compensation, is to try to make up for losses, to use money as a crude way to try to put the plaintiff back where they would be in absence of negligence, as if the defendant had done what they were supposed to do.
But, for a lot of people, it’s more complicated than that:
Charles Douglas, founding partner of Douglas Leonard & Garvey in Concord, N.H., agreed. “Missing a week of work could mean missing work entirely,” he said. “And in this economy, they know that jobs aren’t plentiful, so they don’t take risks.”
Particularly troubled are people who work in small businesses or are self-employed, said Mark Sisti of the Sisti Law Offices in Chichester, N.H. “If you lose a customer in this climate, it’s a real loss,” he said.
No one has a good solution for this problem. Even if we make the laws paying or protecting jurors better — as we should — it’s still hard to pull someone away from a business that depends on them. I’m sure Larry Ellison thinks he’s important, and I applaud him for fulfilling his duty without complaint, but Oracle runs just fine in his absence. The same isn’t true for a two-employee plumbing operation or a family-run bakery.
Which is why it’s so important that everyone who can serve on a jury actually does serve. If you were hit by a delivery truck or slipped at a car dealership — not to mention if you were facing criminal charges and thus your very liberty, or if you were the one being sued — you would hope that everyone would do their civic duty to the best of their ability. You should, too.