Jury Duty with a Mediator Mindset, Part 1

Last year, shareholder A. Michelle Jernigan served on a jury at the Orange County (Fla.) Courthouse. Here she offers a glimpse of how a mediator thinks in a situation like this. More questions? Call on Michelle at mjernigan@uww-adr.com or (407) 661-1123. Would you like to reserve a mediation time with Michelle? Visit our scheduling page or contact case manager Cathy McCleary (cmccleary@uww-adr.com).

Florida Mediator Michelle Jernigan Florida Mediator and UWWM Shareholder Michelle Jernigan


This story begins with the receipt of a jury summons from the Orange County Courthouse in the first quarter of 2014. Looking over the summons, I realized I would be out of town on the jury report date and had to reschedule. My phone call to the jury duty office was cordial and helpful; the summons date was rescheduled to April, and I went about my business. Sometime in March, I received another jury summons with a report date of April 7. I did not have any mediations scheduled that day and would be free to fulfill my duty.

I had appeared for state court jury duty in the past but was never chosen to serve on the jury. I assumed this journey would entail the same experience – an opportunity to sit in the jury duty room, catch up on some reading, drink coffee, watch television and chat a little with those in the area. Just as I had selected my reading material and become comfortable in my surroundings, however, my name was called. Within minutes we were ushered up to a courtroom where “voir dire” began.

My next thought was: This is going to be fun. I have never even been on a “venire” before. After all, what lawyer would select a former litigation attorney/26-year mediator who is married to a plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer? Having overcome my surprise, I decided to carefully listen to the questioning and attempt to “guess” at which individuals would not be seated on the jury. I knew this would take most of the day, and I decided I might as well find a way to keep my mind occupied. Lawyers for the plaintiff and the defense questioned me. One inquired whether my occupation would cause me to favor one side over the other. I answered, “Quite the contrary. As a neutral, I would try to listen to the evidence in an open-minded fashion and try not to exercise any bias.” The other asked me if my husband’s occupation as a plaintiff’s lawyer would encourage me to rule in favor of the plaintiff. I responded, “My preference is that my husband settle his cases, not try them.” Again, I assured both lawyers I could be fair.

We were excused while the judge and the lawyers picked the jury. I believe it was about 5 p.m. when the jury was actually selected and sworn. The judge inquired about our work commitments, and I brought it to the Court’s attention that I had several mediations that would have to be rescheduled or covered by other mediators. Neither the judge nor the lawyers seemed bothered by my potential lost opportunities since I was with a mediation firm that could cover my commitments. One juror was excused for economic hardship, but I knew I could not make that argument. Losing a chance to make several thousand dollars to pay towards my daughter’s Georgetown college tuition was a big bite to me, but it was not like our family would go hungry without that money. So there I was, serving as a juror on a five-day trial in Orange County Florida.

Next: The Jury.

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