25 lessons from 7 weeks of Jury Duty

April 17, 2008 at 9:20 am (Random thoughts)

As I mentioned in my previous post I learned an awful lot during my time of civic duty. The following 25 are things that I learned during this time. They range from things that I learned about the judicial system to things that I learned about people to things that I learned about downtown San Diego. While some may better be called “things I was reminded of” I’m still going to include all of them under things I learned.

Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t read my post describing the case and would like the opportunity to guess the verdict then do not read this post.

25. Paying anything more than 6 dollars for a day of parking downtown is stupid.

The first day I paid 14 dollars and swore that I would never do that again. After that the most I paid was .75 an hour on Kettner and then I discovered .50 an hour on G street. I also got some free parking on Pacific Highway and on the corner of Kettner and Broadway (that is usually occupied early by Starbucks employees but their shift lets out at 12:30 PM so try and hit that up if you’re there at that time).

24. “Liberty and justice for all” is something we all believe in.

In one of the more comical highlights of the trial the Plantiffs attorney, Dan Stanford, called a witnesses attention to the engraving of the statement above the elvators of the courthouse. He asked the witness, “don’t you believe in liberty and justice for all?” and the defense attorney objected, “we all do”. To my surprise the objection was sustained.

23. Just because you’re a highly paid lawyer doesn’t mean you have to learn how to spell.

Dan Stanford is a very dramatic and skillful orator. He’s a master of using props and hand gestures and body language to emphasize his points. He’d be quite good at acting I’m sure. But he sure sucks at spelling. At one point he dramatically stormed over to write in large letters on a poster the words “Safety” and “Yield”. He failed at both instead writing “Saftey” and “Yeild”.

22. Subway’s $5 foot long promotion is the best promotion in fast food history.

The food court in the lobby of the Hall of Justice has 3 restaurants; a Ricardo’s Mexican food, an Asian Bistro and a Subway. Every single day at noon the line for Subway would be a constant 25-30 people deep for a full hour. I think during that entire hour the other 2 shops might get 30 people between them both.

21. Selling tax-free municipal bonds is quite the racket.

The plaintiff, Mark Augusta, never graduated college (despite 5 years at UCSB). He went from being a bartender in PB to making six figures in 3 years. Then he really got rolling. In 1991 he made 160K by 1999 he was making over 600k per year (which is what he’s currently averaging).

I don’t know of too many jobs where you can earn that much money without a degree but I’ll bet Mark Augusta and Joel Osteen aren’t the only ones out there like that.

20. People will do or say almost anything to avoid getting on jury duty.

While sitting through the 3 days of jury selection I heard so many ridiculous and contrived excuses for why people couldn’t be on this jury I wanted to puke. Everything from “I don’t think i can be fair and impartial because I lost in my divorce” to “I think my back would hurt too much.” I told the 12 jurors we finished with how impressed I was with each one of us because we each had the opportunity to say something ridiculous and get out of it but none of us were willing to lie.

19. The weather in San Diego truly is amazing.

While there were a couple of drizzly weekends and one scorching weekend every single Monday through Thursday was absolutley gorgeous. 72 and lots of sunshine. B-E-A-Utiful.

18. There is literally nothing more boring than watching video depositions.

I can’t even calculate how many hours we spent watching video depositions. At first you think maybe they will ask some deep probing questions, or really put the screws to them with a “where were you on the night of August second 1999?!?!?” But that never happens. The camera never moves and if there is anything even remotely spontaneous it’s edited out.

Example of a video deposition…

Have you seen this memo before?

I might have. It looks like the memo’s we got.

What would you do with it?

Read it.

How many times?

Once, maybe twice if I had a question about it.

What if you didn’t answer your question by reading it the second time?

I would ask the compliance officer about it.

What would she say?

She would explain it.

I’m sorry?

I said she would explain it.

Every time?

Typically.

What was your question about it?

I don’t know that I had a question about it.

It’s so painful, but even worse when the defense shows their clips because they didn’t have them professionally edited like the plaintiff. The defense clip would run for about 90 seconds and then stop and the lead attorney would then have to push a button to make it start again. Imagine trying to watch a 2 hour episode of book T.V. and every minute and half it turned off and you had to push a button to start it again. I swear this is worse.

17. I enjoy meeting tourists.

One of my favorite things to do on breaks was to walk around the city. On a few occasions I would meet tourists. I met a family from Chicago and we talked about baseball. A couple from Seattle on a cruise asked me for directions to the “gaslight” district at 8:45 in the morning. I took a picture of a couple from St Louis in front of the Midway. But my favorite tourist of all was a guy from Russia. I took a picture of him in front of a Benito Juarez statue.

16. Speaking of Benito Juarez statue. His statue is in a little park on G street between union and state. It’s a great park to enjoy lunch at. There are several large trees to seek shade in and enough benches for the few visitors that use it. Every day at lunch several guys play a little game of pick up soccer while dozens of professional dog walkers circle the park picking up crap in little blue bags. With the exception of the old guy who always allowed his dog to get right up next to you it’s very lovely park.

15. Lawyers work like crazy and I’m sure most deserve their money.

There were about 20 3-Inch binders of evidence offered in this case. That was probably 10 percent of the volume of documents actually involved. These lawyers were with us in the courtroom every day from 9-4:30 meaning they did almost all of their work ahead of time and during the weekends. This case had been going on for 4+ years. One of the lawyers told me afterward that he had been working 15 hours a day, 7 days a week since January to prepare for this trial.

14. Lawyers lie like crazy.

Obviously we did reach a verdict, but that doesn’t mean that we necessarily believed everything the lawyers said. Even while talking to them afterwards I didn’t feel like they would be totally honest with me. Now I’m sure everyone just says “duh” when you speak of lawyers lying but I honestly had not had much interaction with lawyers and I didn’t really think they could all be liars. After this however I can say that even though they may not all be “liars” every word they say is very calculated and strategic. One of the lawyers told us in the opening statements, “I love my job, and I sleep very good at night.” After the trial I was left shaking my head wondering how this guy could sleep at night saying the things he says and doing the things he does.

13. I want to be an expert witness.

I think we had about 8 expert witnesses and while not all of them were asked about how much money they make I do remember in general that they get paid something like $650 an hour to testify in court. That doesn’t even take into account how much money they are earning by preparing their testimony. One expert had billed over 400K in the case. WOW.

12. People who complain about traffic in San Diego are doing something wrong.

I never had any difficulty getting in or out of San Diego from Poway. I would typically leave the Church at 8 exit the 163 onto 4th ave around 8:30 be parked by 8:40 and be in the courthouse by 8:50 every morning. Leaving the courtroom at 4:30 I would be home before 5:15 every day. And that’s usually using the bathroom before exiting the courthouse plus the few block walk to my car.

11. If you want to be elected foreman, just talk to people on your jury.

I never actually set out to be foreman of this jury, I just set out to be me, each and every day. I like people and like talking to people. I made it a point to “get to know” everybody on the jury. The jury started out with 16 people but by the end of the trial there were just 12. Of the 4 who left I failed to have a true conversation with 3 of them, but that was just because I didn’t have time. I like finding out what other people are all about and with 7 weeks you’ve got plenty of time to do that. I guess it’s a little bit more of a challenge to use this “talk to people” strategy on normal cases, but it’s a tip nonetheless so take it or leave it.

10. One of the things that shocked me most about my jury was how few people have traditional families.

I was the youngest person of the 12 (turned 28 during the trial). The next youngest was 42 (also during the trial). Of the 12 of us only 7 were married and of those 7 only 4 had children. And none of the 5 single people ever had children either. This was all quite surprising to me because I would have figured 4 out of 5 people over the age of 40 are married and/or have children. Of course the reason for not having younger people with children could be due to the length of the case and commitment required to be on such a jury but still I found it strange. Oh yeah, also the Plaintiff, Mark Augusta and his wife didn’t have kids either and they are both in their late 40’s.

9. If you’re investing in bonds you should probably take the time to read the prospectuses.

A large portion of this case had to do with whether or not Mark Augusta had intentionally deceived his elderly clients by describing the bonds he was selling to them as “safe” . The trick with Municipal bonds (muni-bonds) is that they have a city name attached to them leading the uninformed buyer to believe they are government backed, or at the very least a “safe bet”. But in actuality many muni-bonds are just as risky as stocks. There is a ratings system that you can follow which describes the safest bonds as AAA (or A3) and the riskiest bonds would usually be called UR (Unrated). Of course many bond offerings don’t pay to have their bonds rated because they aren’t large enough offerings to justify spending the money to get it rated. At least that’s what your broker is going to tell you. In this case I think had the clients not taken Augusta at his word and had instead read the prospectuses and learned that these offerings were highly speculative they probably wouldn’t have purchased the bonds. So if you get a prospectus, even though it’s as thick as a phone book, be smart enough to at least review the risks involved and know exactly what you’re investing in.

8. If you hire a lawyer make sure you get a written services agreement.

Another big portion of this case hinged on the fact that Henry Rossbacher had no written services agreement with Mark Augusta. Nor did he have one with the firm that had actually retained him, Faegre and Benson. Now the California code of professional conduct says you should have an agreement in writing, but the Minnesota code doesn’t. Rossbacher’s excuse was that F&B was paying his bills and he and they both knew the scope of his role (he also claims that Augusta was informed by Schnell that Ross’ role was limited). Augusta’s argument is predicated on the idea that since there was nothing in writing but he knew Ross was representing him as CA counsel, he assumed Ross had no limitation of scope of representation.

Yikes. Avoid this headache and make sure you get in writing what your lawyer is going to do for you.

7. Bankruptcy is like a riptide: easy to get into, hard to get out of.

One of the experts told us this and it makes sense. I remember an episode of the Office for Michael Scott just stands up and yells “I declare bankruptcy”. While, it’s not quite that easy it’s still easy enough. But getting out of bankruptcy? Not easy at all. Because of the looming myriad of arbitrations the Augusta’s filed bankruptcy in 2002. They are still in it. In bankruptcy the 5 largest creditors take control of your estate and then begin to divide up your remaining assets as they see fit. This can’t be fun to go through, but this is America and it happens all the time.

6. Churches need to do a better job of advertising their marriage counseling services.

At one point during Mark’s testimony he was asked about the difficulty these events have caused to his marriage. He spoke of how stressful it’s been how they fight now and they never used to fight before. How he can’t sleep at night, how he had a nervous break down.

When asked if they had sought marriage counseling he sorrowfully shook his head saying, “we couldn’t afford it.”

I found this very sad indeed because our church offers marriage counseling for free. In fact from what I understand so do several others. These poor Augusta’s are struggling through such a stressful time without any help at all whatsoever. Clearly the fault of this lies on the churches for not having big signs in the yellow pages or online that say, “free marriage counseling”.

5. No matter how many bad bonds you sell you can still keep your license.

OK so that’s not exactly true but Mark Augusta sold a truckload of terrible bonds. It was found in the arbitrations that he used deception to sell these. You’d think that he wouldn’t be permitted to sell bonds anymore right? Wrong. While Mark’s “u4” (the record of complaints against a broker) went from 1 single dismissed complaint to dozens of pages in length, he still was permitted to keep working. In fact it seems like the only people who have access to a broker’s U4 are the managers of different brokerage houses. I’ve tried googling Mark Augusta’s name several times and haven’t found anything at all about his record (or anything at all about him in fact). I presume that the bulk of his current clients have no idea that he has such a nasty record. I’m sure they could find it somewhere, perhaps by requesting it from the manager of the company Mark currently works for, Stone and Youngberg, but it certainly isn’t as easy as I would have thought. I guess this is another word of warning to investors out there. You should check up on your broker (They’re called “broker” for a reason you know).

4. Just because your politics are radically different doesn’t mean your sense of justice is.

As the conclusion of the case came up I began to guess in my mind which way my fellow jurors might vote. Naturally I took into account some of the distinct political views I had seen materialize throughout the trial. Two women in particular had extremely liberal politics. One spoke of an Obama/Clinton ticket as her “dream ticket”. The other spoke extremely negatively of President Bush. I wondered if these two might see this case very differently than I given my conservative background. Another gentleman on the jury was even more conservative than myself. How would he see it? To my surprise these three were the most adamant in their position. And it was the exact same position I had…

3. Mark Augusta is a greedy, evil liar who doesn’t deserve a single penny.

He sat on the witness stand and lied to us repeatedly. The only way his testimony could be true is if the whole world was against him. His bosses, his clients, his 4 previous lawyers, his bankruptcy attorney, the 11 different arbitrators, etc. He and his wife put on quite the show about how difficult and miserable life has been because of all these people being against him. You’d think he would want to be there front and center when the verdict was read right? After all if it was you and you have a 50/50 chance of being awarded 14 million dollars wouldn’t you want to be there to hear immediately? Well when we came back in to read the verdict he wasn’t there. His wife was there but he wasn’t. When the veridict was read…

Did Henry Rossbacher intentionally fail to disclose material information Mark Augusta did not know or could not have reasonably discovered on his own? No

Was Henry Rossbacher Negligent in his representation of Mark Augusta? No

Did Henry Rossbacher breach a fiduciary duty owed to Mark Augusta? No

I expected Bridget to burst into tears, but she didn’t. She was polite, she even thanked us as we left the courtroom.

Where was Mark? He was off on a little surfing trip… IN FIJI!

As it turns out Mark has already sued Faegre and Benson, Bob Schnell, Lindsay Arthur and another attorney, Steven Green. Those 4 lawsuits all settled out of court to a grand total of over 7 million dollars!

Those guys very well may have been at fault for something, or it might not have been worth it for them to spend 4 years worth of legal fees in defending themselves. But for Henry Rossbacher it was worth it.

2. The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.

1. The American judicial system, while not perfect, is still a very effective system and probably the best in the world.

I’m glad to have been a productive member of this system by fulfilling my civic duty and I strongly encourage everyone to not grumble the next time you get jury duty but to embrace the opportunity to help maintain justice in our community (plus now you know where to park).

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13 Comments

  1. danielbalc said,

    In #5 I spoke of coming up empty when googling “Mark Augusta”. Well thankfully that has changed. now when you google his name you get directed to Daniel’s Den. I’m always glad when my site can be a public service like that. I’m also glad that people are googling his name, even though it’s probably just my loyal readers checking up on my facts it’s still a start.

  2. Beth Ward said,

    Daniel,
    I’m very proud of you. You were definitely a great choice as a juror and a foreman in this case. I met an expert witness on our cruise in November. It does sound like a great line of work. Thank you for taking the time to update everyone and share about your case. I learned a lot.

  3. Albino Hayford said,

    Good job…interesting post.

    I served on a jury 2 years ago. I tried to avoid it by telling the judge, “I’m a pastor and we only have a staff of two.’ He asked me, “Is your associate a competent man?” “Yes”, I stammered. Then he asked me, “If you were on trial, would you want someone like yourself to sacrifice to be on the jury?” I again stammered, “I suppose I would.” BAM. Two weeks of jury duty.

    One humorous note: Ours was also a lawsuit against a local GM dealership for wrongful job termination. The fired employee was suing both GM USA and the local dealership, so both lawyers were involved. His case had no merit. He was a liar, a cheat and a terrible employee. Like the corporate lawyer (who was worth every penny of her salary) said, “This man wants to win the lottery without buying a ticket!”

    We got the case at 11:00 am, and after polling the jury, we all agreed he should get nothing. Then I spoke up. “Listen, we’ve been here for two weeks…let’s drag this out for an hour and get a free meal out of Hidalgo County.” Everybody agreed. We talked about other stuff for an hour, then the baliff escorted us across the street for a fajita feast.

    Upon our return, we called for the judge to say that we had a verdict.

    The local dealership’s lawyer freaked out that we were taking so long AND SETTLED WITH THE PLAINTIFF!!! The GM corporate lawyer waited patiently because, in her words, “I would have waited a week not to give this sorry SOB a single penny.”

    That was probably the most expensive fajita platter we ever ate!

    I also was impressed that we could come together across gender, socio-economic, racial and religous barriers and work together, and see the same things in the case. It’s sort of like a summer camp for adults; lots of joke telling and cameraderie.

    Sad Postscript: The judge who heard our case was caught up in a corruption investigation and killed himself with his baliff’s weapon one year later.

  4. danielbalc said,

    Dang albino that was the most up and down comment ever.
    I was happy one second, laughing another, angry the next and finally really depressed. Thanks for that, um, interesting comment.

  5. Albino Hayford said,

    I report, you decide

  6. Albino Hayford said,

    One more comment: Benito Juarez is not only one of the most revered Presidents in Mexico’s history, he was also a pen-pal of President Lincoln, and the best friend evangelicals in Mexico ever had. He separated church and state in Mexico, opening the door for freedom of religion in a country long dominated by the Catholic church.

    His most famous statement was: “Respect for the rights of others is peace”

    For this reason, evangelicals have parades and parties every year on Benito Juarez’s birthday. VIVA JUAREZ!!!!

  7. Jess said,

    Sounds like it was a good experience! I have been called to jury duty 3 times all with reporting days within 2 weeks of one of my children’s due dates, a very wierd coincidence. So I have always been excused. My dad once served on the Grand Jury, I think he did it for 18 months or something like that.

  8. out of thin air said,

    The best solution to the parking problem is to have your jury duty transferred to Vista.

  9. Echo_ohcE said,

    Daniel,

    Bravo. I’m glad you saw things clearly. By clearly, of course I mean the same way I saw them! 🙂

    E

  10. danielbalc said,

    Actually echo everything your comment said was eerily accurate. i thought perhaps you had been a member of the jury. It was really quite impressive. I assume part of that comes from having a family member in the business and I guess another part of it is that you’ve been reading me enough that you’re able to pick up the biases.

  11. jamminjab said,

    Hey Nephew, I read your blog and now I am tired! But I did enjoy your 25 lessons. Um…I thought Bruce Clegg was charging outside people for counseling now, better check on that. Loved all the downtown stories: tourists, sunshine, subway,etc. Liked that you got everyone else’s info while keeping your own conversative view underwrap. As for the case…how long before you realized Augusta was a rat. Did you have to hear much of the case before you knew. Or did some discernment kick in sooner.

  12. danielbalc said,

    with regards to #20 I saw this story this morning…

    http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/northcounty/20080429-9999-1m29angels.html

    This is ridiculous. It’s outrageous the lengths to which people will go to avoid doing there civil duty. And what is more outrageous is that the Jury services people cower at the slightest opposition. They ought not be apologizing to him. And they certainly shouldn’t have told him his service was fulfilled.

    I think as part of the security check in there should be enforcement of the “business casual” dress code. Anyone who fails to adhere to decent attire should not be permitted to come in and fulfill their service.

    That would be awesome.

  13. Matt said,

    He could just take the ugly vest off……nevermind that makes too much sense and would not get him the attention he was seeking.

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