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Brooklyn Bar Association discusses jury selection in a changing Brooklyn

July 1, 2016 By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Brooklyn Bar Association (BBA) discussed jury selection for the first time in 10 years during a Continuing Legal Education seminar that featured Justice Ellen Spodek. Pictured from left: Michael Ronemus, Thomas Gerspach, Spodek and John A. Bonina. Eagle photo by Rob Abruzzese
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The Brooklyn Bar Association (BBA) hosted a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) seminar on June 27 with Justice Ellen Spodek titled “Jury Selection in a ‘New’ Brooklyn: Hipsters, Transplants and Millennials.”

The lecture, held in Brooklyn Heights, was designed to offer tips to civil attorneys who have been forced to adjust to jury pools that have been affected by a rapidly changing demographic within Brooklyn over the last 20 years.

“The last time the Brooklyn Bar put on a jury selection CLE was about 10 years ago,” said John Bonina, the chair of the BBA’s Medical Malpractice Committee. “As I thought [about] that, I realized that there have been a lot of changes in trials and the way cases are tried — and in fact, as a lifelong Brooklyn resident, I’ve seen a lot of changes to Brooklyn itself over the last 10 years. So I thought this would be a good topic to focus on.”

The lecture was hosted by Bonina and featured Justice Spodek, Michael Ronemus of Ronemus & Vilensky LLP and Thomas Gerspach of Gerspach Sikoscow LLP.

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“We’re lucky this evening to have two trial lawyers, one plaintiff and one defendant who have truly distinguished themselves both with their results in the courtroom and their reputations with their peers,” Bonina said. “And also to have a judge who is not only similarly distinguished on the bench, but was also a terrific trial attorney before becoming a judge herself.”

Ronemus opened the lecture by discussing how juries can naturally be unpredictable, but admitted that he and many plaintiffs’ attorneys feel that younger, more well-off jurors have a hard time relating to their defendants, in contrast to, for example, a random juror from 20 years ago.

“Plaintiffs’ lawyers are typically against [millennials or hipsters] because they feel that they don’t have enough life experience,” Ronemus said. “They don’t have the pain of people who have suffered and been down and out. Typically, we’re looking for someone who will be sympathetic, who will believe in your client; but hipsters and millennials, typically speaking, I don’t think feel that to the extent that the old-time Brooklyn jurors do.

“In my own children, I see some resistance in giving the type of verdict that I feel a case would warrant.”

Gerspach expressed that he felt differently. He recalled a conversation he had with his niece, a millennial (as defined by being born after 1980), who is an anthropology major. She suggested not to lump people together based solely on age or where they’re from.

“When we discussed it, she explained that this was an incredibly diverse generation, one that is often misunderstood and typically assumed to be aloof because they’re constantly looking at their phones. But they do understand the value of hard work and nuance despite occasionally putting a hashtag before a word.

“I think the fact that they’ve had so much information at their fingertips means that they are actually pretty adept at processing information and recognizing the strong points of the different sides of a debate.”

Gerspach suggested that the best way to pick a good jury is to try to learn the backgrounds of the jurors, defendants and key witnesses, hoping to find a way for them to relate to one another.

Spodek agreed that any attorney going into a trial with a predisposition about millennials or transplants puts themselves at risk.

“Anytime you use the phrase ‘those people,’ it’s not a good thing,” Spodek warned. “I think it’s different whether you were born here or if you are a transplant from Ohio, but I don’t think you can lump everyone together.”

Spodek did concede that today’s “CSI generation” often expects more evidence than jurors did in the past, and that attorneys need to be prepared for that. She added that she has seen jurors consider aspects of cases that neither attorney brings up at trial.

“The main thing that we heard from the various speakers is that you can’t lump these people in all together as respective jurors,” Bonina said. “Rather, you have to do your same homework and the same type of questioning of jurors. They may require a little bit more because they’re used to seeing more evidence and available information online, but otherwise, you can’t lump them together.”


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