Problem Solving goes to court

I try to practice what I preach. In terms of Problem Solving, this means being curious, resourceful, and a good critical thinker. It means being observant, challenging your observations, and thinking creatively about how things might be done better. This isn’t always easy, but it was last week when I was called for jury duty at the 18th Judicial Court of Illinois.

For those of you unfamiliar with the process, here’s how it works in DuPage County. The court summons a pool of potential jurors for the day. As a case goes to trial, a subset of this jury pool is brought to a courtroom. The attorneys for the two parties take turns interviewing potential jurors, accepting or excusing them based on their answers, until twelve acceptable jurors are found. Jurors not selected to sit for that trial return to a lounge and wait to repeat the process, if they are called for another trial.

On my day of service, I was juror number 328. Number 328!! That’s a lot of jurors. There must be a lot of bad people in DuPage County, I thought.

As luck would have it, I was called along with about fifty other potential jurors for the first trial of the day. The case involved a young man suing a woman for negligence because she had struck him as a pedestrian with her car (she was on her cell phone, he was running across a busy intersection without a walk sign – beautiful!).

The attorneys began the process of weeding through potential jurors, questioning four (or fewer) at a time, as the rest of us watched. My interest level waned as the tally of excused jurors grew quickly and the attorneys repeated the same questions, over and over.

My problem solving instincts kicked in. Here was an easy opportunity for improvement: if there were some obvious disqualifying characteristics, and there were, why not just poll all potential jurors together and dismiss the unacceptable ones upfront (“OK, anyone who believes there should be a ban on talking on the cell phone while driving, take two steps back…Thank you and good bye”)? I wanted to raise my hand and suggest this, but guessed this wouldn’t be well received.

As the process continued, I saw another obvious and even bigger problem – the two attorneys wanted two very different juries. What was ideally acceptable to one was completely unacceptable to the other. No wonder this was taking so long! How long does it take to identify twelve jurors that both sides strongly believe can be persuaded to favor their client?

I quickly thought of another improvement to this process: don’t have the attorneys pick the jury!

What would be better? Depends on our goal. If we’re really looking for a jury of our peers, we could identify the five characteristics that best define the defendant and pick the twelve most similar jurors. In this case we’d be looking for twelve young women who talk on their cell phones while driving too fast. OK, perhaps that “jury of your peers” concept shouldn’t be taken too literally.

But I quickly came up with an even better idea: why not select the jury the same way we would our data in a survey? That is, randomly? Think of the time you’d save – no attorney interviews required; and you wouldn’t need a pool of 328 potential jurors – just randomly pick your jurors in advance. They serve. And that’s that.

You may find some problems with this approach. What about the loose cannon or two who might end up as a disruptive force on the jury? No problem. Let the jury sort this out. Start by including a couple of extra jurors, then after the first hour or two of deliberation (after the jury has had a chance to interact), have them vote secretly for the couple of jurors who should be excused. It’d be like “Survivor” – the most troublesome would get “voted off the island.” This would lead to more time saved by speeding along the deliberation process.

These were just a couple of ideas I had as a problem solver watching the proceedings.
In the end, I wasn’t called to serve. Neither were the vast majority of my fellow jurors – as it turns out, there were only two trials that day. So, 24 out of 328 jurors served (I was the very last juror and thus know the exact count was 328). Think about that: 24 served out of 328. That’s a utilization of 7.3%. I’m not sure the court’s view, but that seems pretty wasteful to me. If my ideas were put into practice, we’d have saved exactly 300 person-work days (we’d have needed only 28 jurors). Assuming this day was just like every other, we could save that amount each and every day!

What’s that worth? If you assume 20 work days per month and use the average annual adjusted income in Illinois of $41,987, that’s a savings of $12.6 million per year! And I offer these ideas for free, which would give my state a return of infinity ($12.6 million divided by zero).

I guess that court video we saw to start the day was right: our service as jurors really IS valuable.

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One Response to Problem Solving goes to court

  1. Murph says:

    Great suggestions, but I was expecting more sarcasm.

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