EAST CHICAGO | Lake Superior Court Judge Calvin Hawkins on Wednesday welcomed the verdicts of several actual jurors on their experience with the trial system.
Hawkins had partnered with the Women Lawyers Association to adapt a program more typically presented at the annual National Judicial College.
Focusing on the trial system from the perspective of jurors, Wednesday's panel may be the first of its kind to be open to lawyers as well as judges, Hawkins said.
Lawyer Melissa Cohen, president of the Women Lawyers Association, warned the attending judges and lawyers to "brace themselves" for "the good, the bad and the ugly" of what the jurors might have to say.
All four jurors on the panel voiced the pains and pleasures of their service during civil trials in Hawkins' courtroom.
While mostly kind to Hawkins, the jurors didn't hold back on their frustration with repetitious attorneys and overlong jury instructions.
Alone among the four jurors, Lori Haney, of Highland, didn't hesitate to call her experience "horrible."
But, she explained, that was because silence was demanded of her as an alternate juror.
"I was told not to speak, just listen," she said. "It was hard to do."
Haney deplored having to keep silent as a sole dominant juror swayed the rest of the jury on the outcome, she said.
Conversely, regular juror Michael McKenna, of Whiting, said he and his fellow jurors were almost all "on the same page." Jurors kept mostly to the facts first, he said.
Joseph Fernandez, of Hobart, and Sabreena Osborne, of Gary, shared McKenna's basic experience.
All, including latecomer Eric Mackey, of Highland, who had served on a criminal trial, said they'd be happy to serve again despite shortcomings in the system.
Fernandez said he was glad he took notes, which later proved helpful in clarifying or referencing discrepancies.
"Sometimes there were big gaps," he said.
Lawyers weren't always clear on questions of insurance, the jurors agreed.
They also agreed the amount of awards sought by lawyers "resonated."
In the personal injury case before her panel, Osborne said the figure sought seemed "astronomical" given the injury and the bills. The panel opted to pay a woman's medical bills and lost wages but not overtime, she said.
Had the jury been provided more information on the reasoning behind the figure, Osborne said the panel may have awarded more.
Meanwhile, McKenna said his panel couldn't make much sense of bills with "blacked out" figures.
The jurors all agreed professional dress on the part of lawyers influenced them, while gender did not.
Complex, overlong jury instructions particularly nettled McKenna. None appreciated "bickering" or a lack of civility between opposing attorneys.
Their candid observations were noted by Gary attorney Bessie Davis, who credited Hawkins for opening the door to the jurors and their views.