I spent last week sitting on a jury for King County. The experience left me with a couple of thoughts about our system of justice. Also a few thoughts about real estate, the subject of the trial:
1. Never accept a deal with a dual agent -- one in which the same agent represents both the buyer and the seller. Shenanigans ensue.
2. Read all contracts thoroughly. No more skimming and nodding as if you understand.
3. Never get into a real estate deal for your primary residence that gets anywhere near taxing your resources.
So much for the plaintiff and the defendant.
And now for the jury system itself. I had never sat on a jury before, and I am glad I had the experience. I could have gotten myself excused as a sole proprietor given the expected length of the trial, as did several of my original panel, but I decided I should do my civic duty and give society a week of my time.
So far so good.
But now we have 12 jurors (plus the alternate, during the trial) sitting for a week getting paid all of $10 per day. And for a trial that basically boiled down to avoidable negligence on the part of the defendant, negligence that wound up costing the plaintiff dearly. Yes, the defendant deserved to be found negligent, and the plaintiff deserved to be compensated. And we awarded the plaintiff about $400K in damages, which was no small potatoes in this case.
But having the jury of 12 sit there for a week cost, very roughly, at least $50K in lost salaries and benefits. To which we must add court costs including salaries, rent, etc., on the courthouse for as long as the case was open (about a year). I'll bet the citizens of King County (including the jurors) spent nearly as much as the total damages.
In the end, while I certainly acknowledge the importance of jury trials to our democracy, it isn't clear to me that it is a good use of society's resources to spend so much on a case like this. Perhaps binding arbitration would have served the same ends? Or maybe that just winds up looking like a trial before a judge? And the defendant went for trial by jury.
Perhaps this is just the cost we pay for a civil, democratic society.
"Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others", and all that.