By Greg Haubrich
Attorney at Law
Why the Rich and Powerful Don’t Like Juries
That question kind of answers itself, doesn’t it? If you are rich and powerful — like a ginormous insurance company for example — it just wouldn’t seem fair that 12 ordinary people could decide if you had done wrong. I mean, they couldn’t see things from your corporate point of view, right?
The composition of juries has changed a lot over time in this country. “All men are created equal,” said the Declaration of Independence. Despite Abigail Adams’s entreaties to her husband, however, the founders really meant all were created equal who were white, male, and owned land. They were the only ones who got to vote, and they were the only ones who served on juries.
Today it is different, and better. You are qualified to be a juror if you are a citizen of the United States, a resident of the community, and have either a driver’s license or a state-issued identification card. Women, blacks, pinks with purple spots, can all participate in the wonderful democratic institution we call the jury.
Not everybody appreciates the democratization of the jury. A few years ago I heard Rush Limbaugh say on his program that women are too “emotional” to serve on juries.
I have to admit when I was seventeen and my high school girlfriend told me she was going to be a lawyer I laughed out loud. She asked what was so funny. I said: “But Rae, girls can’t be lawyers!!” So much for that budding romance ….
Of course, she was a lawyer years before me. By the time I went to law school about 40% of the students were women. Now it’s at least 50-50. In the Oklahoma County courthouse it’s been true for at least the last ten years that half of the judges are women. (And I say YAY!!)
So back to why the rich and powerful fear juries.
The simple reason is, because juries in America are no longer made up of the white male rich and powerful. Does this make the system unfair to the rich and powerful? Absolutely not. What it does is put them on a level playing field with those who could not otherwise obtain justice.
Allow an example. One of the great heroes of American pop culture was Lee Iacocca, President of Ford Motor Company during the 1960s. You may remember him also as the leader of Chrysler later on, when he guided the company through bankruptcy and returned it to profitability. Iacocca introduced the Mustang, one of Ford’s longest-lasting and most iconic products. However, he also brought in the Pinto.
The Ford Pinto, like many cars of the time, had a gas tank in the back of the car under the trunk. If the car got rear-ended even at relatively low speeds, the gas tank could get punctured. Then, all too often, an electrical component such as a turn-signal filament also broke and shorted out.
Electric spark, plus gasoline vapors, equals fire and explosion. People got rear-ended, fires sparked, fuel ignited, and they burned to death in those cars. Families. Parents. Friends. Children. Cousins.
Ford engineers had gone to Lee Iacocca and told him about the risk of explosion. They recommended re-designing the car to put the fuel tank forward of the rear axle where it would be protected from rear-end impact. The Captain of Industry asked how much would it cost? The engineers responded: $12.00 per car.
Twelve dollars per car. Mind you, that’s a lot of money when you’re going to sell a couple million of them over time.
The next question was: “How much is a human life worth?”
This is all in the record of Ford internal documents. The bean counters answered that the expected verdict per death was about $300,000.00.
Not three million or 3 zillion or anything fair or reasonable for the loss of a beautiful human life. Three hundred thousand. So Iacocca and the bean counters did the math and decided the company would make more money by leaving the tanks where they planned, rather than moving them and saving literally thousands of lives.
Yes, they KNEW statistically there would be THOUSANDS of people burned in those cars, and chose not to change it.
Juries all over the country punished them and kicked their butts up one side and down the other. (Especially those “emotional” female members of the jury!) When a corporation does such morally reprehensible things, we should be emotional about it and punish the offender accordingly.
And that, friends, is why the rich and powerful hate juries and the jury system.