After spending a decade in courtrooms as a spectator from the gallery, I spent a couple days this week watching a trial from a different perspective: the jury box.
I knew the day would come eventually that I would get summoned. I had deferred my jury service three years ago — after the pandemic had surfaced but before we knew courtrooms across the country would be shut down for months. So it was no surprise when the blue and gold, County of Dallas-stamped envelope arrived in my mailbox several weeks ago with “jury summons” written in all caps and big, bold lettering next to my name and address. It told me to report to the Frank Crowley courthouse on May 23.
What did surprise me was I was actually selected — despite the online questionnaire I filled out beforehand that disclosed I am a legal journalist and that my spouse is a lawyer here in Dallas. (Then again, if veteran Dallas Morning News criminal courts reporter Jennifer Emily can serve as a juror on a capital murder trial, I suppose anything is possible.)
As the bailiff called out the order of the jury pool outside Dallas County Court of Criminal Appeals No. 2, I thought, sounds about right, as she identified me as juror No. 32. But then, she retreated back in the courtroom for a few minutes and re-emerged with a new announcement: the order had switched.
My assignment moved from seat 32 to seat 2. In other words, I was in the “splash zone,” as Dallas County Assistant District Attorney London Daniels described the front row while questioning the pool during voir dire.
We quickly learned the trial was a DWI case. I answered honestly that I could evaluate the defendant, a 21-year-old woman, with impartiality despite knowing people who have gotten DWIs and that I could follow the law and convict without a blood alcohol level should the evidence not provide one but prove the defendant was mentally and/or physically incapacitated while operating the vehicle. But I wasn’t quite as honest as some of my peers. (The woman to my left, potential juror No. 1, clearly trying to get excused, laid it all out: “I hope I don’t get in trouble for saying this, but I’ve driven drunk out of my mind before,” she said at one point.)
Once we were sworn in, the case moved quickly and painlessly — though a few fellow jurors who cried out in boredom in the jury room during breaks would probably disagree with that statement. But being the legal nerd I am, I was enthralled by the position I was put in — and grateful for once that I could just listen to the facts, analyze the lawyers’ strategies, and study the body language of the defendant and witnesses with laser focus without having to concurrently scribble down mostly illegible notes like a maniac.
Between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning, we heard roughly a workday’s worth of testimony before spending an hour, give or take, to reach our decision midday on Wednesday. Despite the countless complicated commercial trials I’ve covered, where I’ve doubted my own ability to reach a verdict as a hypothetical juror as the real jury spent days deliberating, this one was straightforward and easy to follow the gut on. My five peers had the same gut reaction: Without reasonable doubt, the government had proved its case against the defendant.
I enter Memorial Day weekend behind on my work, but proud to have played a small role in the grand system of public service. In the near future if you (or your corporate clients) find yourself in my position — someone who works in or with the legal industry who, against all odds, is selected to serve on a jury — I’d urge you to ask yourself whether you truly are too busy to serve before trying to wiggle out of it, or if that’s just what you’re telling yourself. After all, we’re spending this long weekend honoring those who have lost their lives to preserve our country’s freedoms, including the right to trial by jury.
The Latest Charitable Happenings
— On June 2, the Foster Care Advocacy Center will host a cocktail party and fundraiser to celebrate its five-year anniversary. FCAC is a Houston-based nonprofit that provides legal advocacy and social services to children and parents in the child welfare system. FCAC co-founder Tara Grigg Green started the organization after gaining significant personal and professional experience with the foster care system.
Growing up, Green was a member of a foster family that cared for more than one hundred foster children. And before launching her nonprofit, she was a staff attorney in the Houston office of Disability Rights Texas, where she helped develop the foster care team. While there, she represented disabled foster children in state child welfare and ancillary proceedings, including special education litigation and Medicaid appeals. She also wrote an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs in the landmark class action Texas foster care reform case, M.D. v. Abbott.
Green’s co-founder, Alex Hunt, is a Houston area family law attorney and Teach for America alum who started working with foster children during law school. He serves as the chairman of FCAC’s board, which also includes Myra Siddiqui, a former Yetter Coleman associate who now serves as an assistant United States Attorney in the civil division of the Southern District of Texas.
FCAC’s fifth birthday party fundraiser will run from 5:30 to 8:30 at gastropub Chapman & Kirby (2118 Lamar St #100, Houston). The event will include cocktails, small bites, live music and a cake cutting.
Tickets are $50, and will support FCAC’s core operations, which aim to reduce the time children spend in foster care, help individuals access service to stabilize families, keep children more stable while in care and place children home with parents ore relatives more often than attorneys working alone would be able to achieve. To purchase tickets, click here.
— St. Mary’s School of Law has received a $15,000 grant from the Texas Bar Foundation to encourage pro bono legal work through public service fellowships. The grant will provide financial support to six St. Mary’s law students working unpaid positions with legal services providers that serve either low-income clients or government agencies. The grant is expected to fuel the students’ passion for public service while providing them financial stability to actually carry out their passion.
“As a first-generation student from a low-income background, pursuing my passions is a luxury I am usually unable to afford,” St. Mary’s law student Leslie Esirciueta said in a statement. “The fellowship let me do something I loved during the summer without having to worry about how I was going to pay my rent or eat for the week.”
— The Dallas Eviction Advocacy Center has hired Bill Holston to join as the nonprofit’s chief operating officer. Founded during the pandemic by Holland & Knight tax partner Mark Melton, DEAC provides pro bono legal representation to Dallas County tenants facing eviction. Holston joins DEAC after serving more than a decade as the executive director of the Human Rights Initiative, a nonprofit focused on helping asylum seekers and immigrants in need of pro bono legal services. He will officially join DEAC in August.
— The Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program is providing several dates in June for virtual and in-person legal clinics for low-income individuals in need of legal services. Separately, DVAP is answering legal questions for free from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. every Wednesday in June. A volunteer attorney will provide up to 15 minutes of legal advice to those in need. Registration for the Wednesday LegalLine E-Clinics close at noon the Tuesday prior. To sign up, click here.
All virtual clinics run from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. To enroll, visit here: https://tinyurl.com/DVAPClinic
June 1: DVAP and Alston & Bird
June 2: DVAP and Bradley Arant Boult Cummings
June 8: DVAP and Hunton Andrews Kurth
June 15: DVAP and DLA Piper
June 22: DVAP and Flowserve
June 29: DVAP and Haynes Boone
Veteran’s clinic: June 2 at 1:30 p.m. at the VA Medical Center (4500 S. Lancaster Rd, Dallas). Sponsored by DVAP, Goldman Sachs and Frost Brown Todd
South Dallas clinic: June 13 at 5 p.m. at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center (2922 Martin Luther King Blvd., Dallas). Sponsored by DVAP and Gray Reed
East Dallas clinic: June 15 at 5 p.m. at Grace United Methodist Church (4105 Junius at Haskell, Dallas). Sponsored by DVAP and McDermett Will & Emery)
West Dallas clinic: June 22 at 5 p.m. at the West Dallas Multi-purpose Center (2828 Fish Trap Rd., Dallas). Sponsored by DVAP and Weil, Gotshal & Manges
South Dallas clinic: June 27 at 5 p.m at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center (2922 Martin Luther King Blvd., Dallas). Sponsored by DVAP, Baker Botts and Akin Gump
— And now, an update on a previously reported P.S. item: Gray Reed lawyers had a productive first firmwide volunteer day on May 19 at the Houston and North Texas food banks. The firm closed its offices that day to volunteer. Houston sorted and organized 3,050 boxes of supplies, while Gray Reed’s Dallas and Waco offices prepared more than 21,000 meal kits. Nearly the whole firm participated.