Karen Koehler

The day voir dire didn’t start ’til 4:00: and an updated voir dire do’s an don’ts list


Trial day 1: 

Instead of doing her usual acrobatic routine, Nala is curled up around my feet. On the little rug in front of the sink.   I glance up at the little crystal clock on the shelf. It says 6:10 which means it is 7:10 since the clocks sprang forward Sunday. Haven’t changed it yet. The mental math keeps me sharp. Or so I tell myself.

On goes the regulation black.   Black jacket. Black tights. Black boots. Black skirt with little ruffles. The only color is a non-color on the shirt. Flesh toned I guess, in a shade several tones lighter than I. With rouching and gathering to soften the severity. Of my black hair.

I leave my rings on the little metal hand stand next to the orchid on the counter.   There are only two of them. One is a pretty piece of jade from an antique shop on Royale Street in New Orleans. The other is my best friend pinky ring. Shellie and I have matching ones. We do pinkie finger shakes wearing those rings. I always wear them. But not for this trial. Because my right hand is covered with a big band aid. The story involves E.J. my six year old nephew and Nala, but that can be told another day.

After dropping Nala off at doggie day care, get on the freeway. Head to Everett. This will take 45 minutes. Plenty of time to practice opening. Or conceptualize voir dire. Maybe review testimony of the first witness. After all, Steve Hay asked me to try this UIM case not quite a month ago.

It is raining. Gray. Too quiet in the car to listen to these thoughts. So turn on The Appeal by John Grisham. The narrator is real good. Am transported to Mississippi.

Park. Ride up the elevator. Walk a few steps across the courtyard to the entrance. There are no security lines around the ugly courthouse. Sorry if you’re from Everett. But that courthouse is about the ugliest thing have ever seen.

Make it to presiding and the court has just read our name. Don’t care, because Steve (Hay) is covering this.  He waves at me. We get assigned out within five minutes.   I get up before I even sit down and we head up to the fifth floor dept. 12.

Now there is a reason why I’ve just spent so long telling you about trial day 1. When we aren’t even in the courtroom yet. You’ll see soon.

We get there and our judge is Marybeth Dingledy. (pronounced Deengel ‘ die) What a fantastic name.   She is very direct, prompt, makes sound rulings on the motions in limine, has a twinkle in her eye. That’s all good.

So what is the problem.

Well, the Allstate attorney Jodi Held, says that she won’t agree to simply calling a panel of 29 prospective jurors. She’s worried there could be bias against Allstate, so she wants 35. Problem is there are only 29. We need to wait to see if any jurors are going to be released from the other voir dire panels around the ugly courthouse.

So we wait.

And wait.

Each lunch.

Come back and wait.

And wait.

Until finally at 2:30 pm Jodi cries uncle and agrees to go with whatever number there is.

Which turns out to be 31.

And then we wait for them to be brought up.

And for the judge to swear them in and do preliminary instruction and voir dire.

Which means that by the time I start voir dire – it is ten minutes until 4:00 p.m.

Can you imagine how upset those jurors must be. I see a lot of lips turned down Mr. and Ms. grumpy pants. And don’t blame that all. 29 of 31 have been sitting in the jury room all day long. Waiting on us.

Oh, this is going to not go well at all.

I put on a smile and start in.

Have you ever been to a comedy show where the audience doesn’t laugh. Or at a music concert where instead of people loudly clapping for an encore, they just leave. Or at a legal education seminar where people are reading the news on their computers and texting on their phones.

Well, that’s what it feels like when you start voir dire at 4:00 in the afternoon of a jury that’s been waiting for six and a half hours to start.

In the words of Winston Churchill which I keep quoting to my children. “Never. Never. Never give up.” So smile. Push forward. And complete the first 20 minute round of voir dire. By the end these folks are loosening up. Talking and shaking their heads yes and no. Sometimes smiling. They are getting into it.

Then Jody stands up.   And starts to give a closing argument in the guise of voir dire. Which is not really even in a guise at all. She asks a series of questions which requires everyone to nod yes. She doesn’t have them say or explain anything. She just wants them to agree with her.   Does this ever really work. This technique of pseudo-brainwashing. Well, maybe. But not today.

Do you agree Allstate should investigate and look at all the facts and circumstances before they pay a claim. Yes they nod.

They may not be getting anything out of this. But she is. Her voice is getting stronger. She’s becoming impassioned. Says: Allstate has a right to look into the…

And at that point, I interrupt and lob an objection. Sweetly. Which the court overrules. Graciously.

Rick Friedman would be sighing and telling me Karen Karen Karen. What have I told you about objecting so much.

Am unrepentant. It needed to be done.

Jody is thrown off. Actually she probably comes out of her trance and realizes, the jury is just about totally asleep.   It is now 4:20. She’s gone 10 minutes. She calls a sidebar and offers to end her round of voir dire early.   Says the jury is flat. Well, no duh they’re flat. I’m about asleep myself.

So we end the day

My Updated Voir Dire List

  • Make sure you know the judge’s special protocol
  • Stand and face the panel
  • Don’t try to ingratiate yourself with the panel
  • Own the courtroom floor, don’t stand still, don’t pace frantically either
  • Don’t clasp your hands behind your back or in front and keep them out of your pockets
  • Make sure every juror in the room can hear and see you
  • Maintain proper interpersonal distance, don’t stand too far away, don’t get too close
  • Don’t think of it as rocket science, think of it as chit chat…organized, focused chit chat
  • Pay attention to body language – yours and theirs
  • Don’t read questions
  • Create a list of topics but don’t try to follow an exact outline
  • Don’t try to control the panel
  • Give to get
  • Don’t write down answers (there’s not enough time)
  • Have a staff member take notes for you if needed – don’t ask your client to help
  • Make eye contact with everyone, somehow, and don’t look like an FBI agent while you’re doing so
  • Invite the jurors to join the group discussion
  • Be animated, friendly, engaging, interested, open, genuine
  • If you feel phony guess what…
  • Listen to the person who is speaking
  • Listen to their body language
  • Listen to the aura of the entire panel
  • Listen to everything you don’t want to hear
  • Listen
  • Don’t spend too much time talking to a few jurors
  • If any of the jurors are monopolizing the conversation feel free to gently tell them you would like to give others a chance to speak
  • Make sure everyone says something
  • Stop talking so much – the jurors are the ones we’re interested in hearing from
  • Show that you care
  • Smile with genuine interest and friendliness
  • Stop frowning
  • Don’t try to ingratiate yourselfGive tidbits of information about the case, but don’t make an opening statement – the jurors will see right through you and the judge won’t be too happy either
  • Don’t be judgmental
  • Thank jurors when they dig deep to give hard answers
  • Make the court room feel like a safe place for the jurors to speak
  • Don’t think you can build credibility by saying the right things
  • The jurors won’t be focused on figuring out what you think but in forming impressions on what you do
  • Proactively transition between jurors instead of reactively jumping around
  • Be polite and respectful to everyone always
  • Don’t roll your eyes and huff and moan when it is the defense lawyers turn
  • What you do when the defense lawyer is having a turn, is just as important as what happens when you are having yours
  • Don’t talk with your client and act like they are having a roll in choosing the jury
  • Don’t call a juror by their first name, instead use Mr, Ms, or Juror # blank
  • Relax your face muscles and let them speak too
  • If the jurors are answering “yes” and “no” then wake up and smell the coffee – you’re doing it wrong
  • Don’t point at them
  • Keep track of the responses somehow and highlight problem or question mark jurors after each round
  • Don’t look scared even if you are, but it’s fine to admit to being nervous
  • Embrace the cliché – honey works better than vinegar

Photo:  Cristina and I at Southbeach in Miami during a break at the AAJ Midwinter Convention last month.  Note the shadow from the selfie stick.

Pretty in Pink



Where the heck have I been.  Well, I started writing a book.  I write it mainly when on airplanes.  Decided I wouldn’t blog until the book was finished.   But then changed my mind.

Since the last time I wrote here, we moved our office three miles down the street.   We are in the top floor of a 1970s fishing company building that we bought and are in the process of refurbishing.

My partners were only too happy to let me take on the job of working with the designers/architects to fashion our new offices.   Not only did I pick out everything from the kitchen sink to  the paint colors and flooring.  But since we have moved in I have micromanaged the décor to such a degree that I have literally hung every single painting.   I have a level, hammer, and tape measurer in my closet.  And haven’t created too many extra nail holes.   None of my partners were clamoring to do this design work.  But instead of feeling put upon or negative in any way, let me tell you – I am absolutely pleased as punch.  I totally got my way.

My own office has been spruced up with a giant pop of color.   Exhibit A is Nala who happened to get her hair done just before it was time to strike a pose.  Hence the pink ribbons that match the pink carpet that match the even more pink chairs.  You will gasp with delight when you see how cute this all turned out.

Whenever possible I like to visit with clients and lawyer friends in my office versus a conference room.    Have never been a big fan of the “power desk” set up.  Where the lawyer sits looking awesome and majestic on one side.  The little people on the other.  I sit on a ball.  Plus there’s Nala.  So I created a set up pretty much straight out of Mad Men.  Now when we have meetings, we sit ensconced in velvet splendor around the coffee table.  Under a black art deco chandelier.

We as lawyers spend so much time at work.  There’s no reason we should not make it all as homey and comfortable as possible.

Photo:  Nala catching some rare Seattle rays on the pink carpet.

Check out a recent interview by Super Lawyers about my blog. Yes, I'm a lawyer. But I'm also a human being. I have a doggie named Nala, three daughters, eat brown sugar cinnamon pop tarts for breakfast, and wear jeans as often as possible when not in court.
Favorite Quotations

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.
— Nelson Mandela

Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you've to say, and say it hot.
— D. H. Lawrence

Why slap them on the wrist with a feather when you can belt them over the head with a sledgehammer.
— Katharine Hepburn

Truth, when not sought after, rarely comes to light.
— Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Hold fast to dreams For if dreams die Life is a broken-winged bird That cannot fly.
— Langston Hughes

There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart.
— Jane Austen

Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality. — Edgar Allan Poe

If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything, wouldn't you, at any time? And you would achieve nothing! — Margaret Thatcher

Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.
— Dr. Suess

Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.
— Abraham Lincoln

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. — Desmond Tutu

True eloquence consists in saying all that is required and only what is required. — La Rochefoucauld

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. — Aesop

The thing you fear most has no power. Your fear of it is what has the power. Facing the truth really will set you free. — Oprah Winfrey

If you're not failing every now and again, it's a sign you're not doing anything very innovative. — Woody Allen

The soul never thinks without a picture. — Aristotle

To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man. — William Shakespeare

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. — Muhammad Ali

Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change. — Stephen Hawking

It is better to have less thunder in the mouth and more lightning in the hand. — Apache proverb

People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they're not on your road doesn't mean they've gotten lost. — Dalai Lama

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.
— Anne Frank

Learn to laugh; it is a discipline to be mastered. Let go of the everlasting burden of always needing to sound profound. — Richard J. Foster

Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. — Albert Einstein

Believe, when you are most unhappy, that there is something for you to do in the world. So long as you can sweeten another’s pain, life is not in vain. — Helen Keller

Remember that lost time does not return. — Thomas á Kempis

If thou faint in the day of adversity thy strength is small. — Proverbs 24:10

Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense. — Gertrude Stein

It is harder to crack a prejudice than an atom. — Albert Einstein

The right of trial by jury shall be preserved. — 7th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution

I'd rather die on my feet than live on my knees. — Ludacris

And the trouble is, if you don't risk anything, you risk even more.
— Erica Jong

Words are chameleons, which reflect the color of their environment. — Judge Learned Hand

You may shoot me with your words, You may cut me with your eyes, You may kill me with your hatefullness, But still, like air, I'll rise. — Maya Angelou

The moment that justice must be paid for by the victim of injustice it becomes itself injustice. — Benjamin Tucker

He who keeps his eye on results cannot give himself wholeheartedly to his task, however simple or complex that task may be. — Howard Thurman

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. — Mahatma Ghandi

Life is painting a picture, not doing a sum. — Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr

The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally. — Flannery O'Connor

We must adjust to changing times and still hold to unchanging principles. — Jimmy Carter

To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul. — Simone Weil

It is not the level of prosperity that makes for happiness but the kinship of heart to heart and the way we look at the world. — Alexander Solzhenitsyn

It is high time that the ideal of success should be replaced by the ideal of service. — Albert Einstein

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference. — Elie Wiesel

I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody. — Bill Cosby

The time is always right to do what is right. — Martin Luther King Jr.

I had rather attempt something great and fail, than to attempt nothing at all and succeed. — Robert Schuller

It is very easy to break down something. You can take a stone and throw it through that window; that is easy. Try fixing it, and that takes longer. It takes longer to help someone who has been broken. That’s the work you’re doing. — Desmond Tutu

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. — Annie Dillard

Mine honor is my life; both grow in one; Take honor from me, and my life is done. — William Shakespeare

To straighten the crooked you must first do a harder thing – straighten yourself. — Buddha

A thought is an idea in transit. — Pythagoras

Fall seven times, stand up eight. — Old Japanese proverb

No generalization is wholly true, not even this one. — Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

Of what use is eloquence? He who engages in fluency of words to control men often finds himself hated by them. — Confucius

There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. — Martha Graham