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'Justice by Jury'

July 28, 1994

Re "Justice by Jury Is a Myth," Commentary, July 18:

Welcome to the elitist world of Franklin Strier and his fellow tort reformers, who view the public as too simple-minded to sit in judgment on corporate America. In his column Strier reflects the elitist, rapacious and greedy viewpoint of tort reformers who would allow physical injury, death and economic damage to be uncompensated in the name of higher profits.

Yes, I am a trial lawyer, and I am proud to represent victims of corporate America, whether my client is a carpenter injured by negligently misgraded lumber, a subway worker injured because contractors take shortcuts and refuse to enforce safety on the job, or a passenger in an automobile crippled for life because a car manufacturer sacrifices safety in the name of higher profits.

Yes, some of the concepts which juries deal with are complicated. The beauty of the jury system, as the founders of our country realized, is that it forces us to reduce the apparently complex to simple issues of fairness and equality. If Strier and his cohorts are successful in making fundamental changes to the jury system, you can bet money on the fact that the changes will not benefit individual Americans, their liberties or their rights.


Long Beach

Strier makes many good points, but having been a jury foreman on two occasions, I think he fails to fault the incredible limitations of too many jurors as a major factor.

In one case, a juror informed us during our deliberations that two of the witnesses for prosecution were lesbians. If so, the fact was irrelevant to the case, and, of course, he had no basis for his statement.

In the other one, one of the jurors, the lone holdout against a unanimous verdict, broke into tears whenever questioned for her reasons. I have never been satisfied that she was convinced, although eventually she did vote with us.

As a young journalist, I covered a paternity suit filed against Charles Chaplin. After he was adjudged the father, we learned that although one blood test indicated he might be the father and the other that he could not be, the jury decided the tests canceled each other!


Granada Hills

As an attorney who has followed closely several of the sensational trials of recent years (William Kennedy Smith, Rodney King, Reginald Denny, Lorena Bobbitt, Lyle and Erik Menendez), I agree almost 100% with Strier.

I have long maintained that the average juror is incapable of understanding the complexities and technicalities of such intricate trials, and of comprehending and applying rationally such vague, abstract concepts as "beyond a reasonable doubt" or even the more straightforward "a preponderance of the evidence."

It is indeed time for judicial reform on many fronts including (but not limited to) re-evaluating the jury system and tackling somehow the obvious inequities which allow the very wealthy such a distinct advantage in their search for "justice."


Los Angeles

Strier asked if we rely on uninformed people to decide important questions in any other field--and I answer, yes. We allow, nay, insist that political leaders and complicated propositions be selected by voters who cannot possibly understand the long-term consequences of their choices. Our form of democracy might have worked 200 years ago when voters were few and issues were clear and immediate, but today it gives us just what we cannot afford, government by default and deception.

Economist Herbert Stein pointed to the problem when he wrote: "Voters will not approve any proposition unless it has a reward for them no longer than six months ahead." Short-term answers for long-term questions do not work today in government or in justice systems.



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