How Allstate made the jurors wait to start...for over 6 hours: a trial diary story

Photo:  This beautiful courthouse is the Grays Harbor Superior Court building.  The Snohomish County Courthouse is the opposite of beautiful.

Photo:  This beautiful courthouse is the Grays Harbor Superior Court building.  The Snohomish County Courthouse is the opposite of beautiful.

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 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.