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March 15, 2005 > A Juror Goes to Oakland

A Juror Goes to Oakland

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by Venkat Raman

Now that I was inextricably caught in the web of the judicial system for a long trial, I had to respond to the call of civic duty. I had to start listening to what was being said around me. The case was about a young woman who suffered a stroke and ended up becoming hemiplegic, which is when a person becomes weak or paralyzed on one side of the body. Heart-wrenching story, unfortunately not fictional. We started the trial with the testimony of one of the paramedics that attended to the affected woman and went on to hear expert testimonies from a number of neurologists, radiologists, emergency room physicians, nurses and other healthcare specialists. This being a civil case, with financial settlement as the goal, we had economists testify as well. All of these categories of witnesses for both sides, no wonder it was going to take two months.

Even though it was turning the lives of everyone around me at home topsy-turvy, I must admit the case was interesting. It had so many nuances that we had to be very attentive and follow all details. There was a bit of education of medical terms and concepts like basilar artery occlusion, vertebral artery dissection, venus sinus thrombosis and hemispheric stroke. There was extensive discussion of the drug TPA (Tissue Plasminogen Activator) manufactured by our very own Bay Area company, Genentech, and another older drug, Heparin, and the efficacy of administering aspirin for stroke. There was analysis of different diagnostic techniques such as MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), MRA (Magnetic Resonance Angiography), MRV (Magnetic Resonance Venogram) as well as angiogram. We learned about IV-TPA (intravenous TPA) and IA-TPA (intrarterial TPA), how hospitals tend to operate and how doctors and nurses work together.

This has been the first trial of this length for me. After the first few days, I fell into a routine and it was as though I had taken a new job at the court. We were an interesting mix, with diversity, and came together from all corners of the Alameda County - from Albany to Fremont and from Hayward to Livermore. But the diversity was not quite balanced; we had an overwhelming representation of college-educated people and men outnumbered women two-to-one. Only two or three of the jurors really wanted to serve, the rest were certainly draftees. Regardless of any of these differences or similarities, no one could have predicted how cohesive a group we would become over the weeks. Until the case was turned over to the jury, it was our responsibility to bond with each other by discussing anything but the case - weather, BART, parking woes, take your pick. We did that with such aplomb, which served us well during our later days in deliberation.

Watching a good trial can be intriguing. This being a long trial, with millions of dollars at stake, the lawyers involved were experienced and good. A good lawyer is a good actor - theatrics are part of the game. A few outbursts and fireworks were included in this trial, but mostly it was a very civil (pun intended) interchange during the testimony and it was certainly a battle of wits when it was time for cross-examination. Nothing like a good cross-examination to keep you awake!

The judge was a good project leader - the trial was kept on schedule. The jury got the case for deliberations towards the end of January. Deliberations would be the test of the personalities of the jurors and the effectiveness of the group. This is the phase in which the real job is done by the jury panel. The mettle of the foreperson and the ability of the jurors to voice all their differences in a friendly environment would be put to test. I believe the bonding of prior weeks and the mutual respect we had gained for each other contributed tremendously to a very cordial session of detailed analysis of all the evidence and testimony.

The case was, by no means, easy. We had a tremendous responsibility - to consider just the evidence. We had to consciously set aside any independent opinions we may have had and look for expert testimony or evidence to support our opinions. All the jurors felt for the plaintiff, but in every instance where some juror thought a doctor was negligent, closer scrutiny revealed no supporting evidence or testimony. On the whole, the plaintiff lost on every single claim. This was understandably devastating to the plaintiff, and caused tremendous emotional stress on many jurors. Though we felt remorse that we could not help out a clearly suffering plaintiff, we all agreed that we had followed the law and arrived at the correct conclusion as a group.

I have had the occasion to serve on one other jury panel in another civil case in 2002 that lasted a little over a week. While the jury panel then was amiable as well, we went our own separate ways after the trial and have not kept in touch. The camaraderie among the jurors of the recent trial can be appreciated with the observation that every single juror agreed to keep in touch with the others after the trial. We have already met once for dinner in February. Another such reunion is being planned for March, with more in the future indicated. I certainly feel this was a rewarding experience on the whole.

 
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