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Brooklyn Bar Association hosts Judges Shillingford and Ash for lecture on jury process

February 8, 2019 By Paul Frangipane Brooklyn Daily Eagle

The Brooklyn Bar Association hosted a continuing legal education seminar about jury selection and deliberations with Supreme Court Justices Sylvia Ash and Ruth Shillingford on Thursday night.As a pair, Hon.

Shillingford and Hon. Ash were able to give insight into the processes from both the civil perspective, with which Hon. Ash works, and the criminal, Hon. Shillingford’s specialty.

Before beginning the lecture, Brooklyn Bar Association President David Chidekel gave a nod to the importance of judicial independence.

“Judges without their independence cannot do their jobs equitably and fairly,” Chidekel said. “And I want to thank these two particular judges who have lately stood up and exercised their independence for the benefit of all the citizens of Brooklyn.”

Justices Ash and Shillingford address the crowd of attorneys and judges.

Those Brooklyn citizens make up the largest jury system in the country, with over one million questionnaires sent out to potential jurors around the borough, according to Justice Ash.

Justice Shillingford began by explaining how she carries out her voir dire process and how it differs from the civil proceeding. In criminal court, the judge is involved through the entire voir dire process. After the preliminary screening with the attorneys, Justice Shillingford typically puts 26 potential jurors in the box, uses a questionnaire, gives the attorneys the opportunity to inquire and then allows challenges for cause.

“So we are all in, in terms of the judge’s role in that process,” she said.

On the civil side, the judge typically remains available in their chambers during selection, Justice Ash said.

Justice Shillingford explains the intricacies of the jury selection process.

“I’ve been a judge for 14 or 15 years, and I have never sat during the selection of a jury,” she said. “In civil court, when a jury comes to you, they’re already ready to be sworn in.”

One example of Justice Ash getting involved in the selection was when a woman whose mother had been in a car accident was being questioned to serve in a motor vehicle accident case. It was then Justice Ash’s job to determine if the potential juror could be impartial.

In speaking on parts of the process such as challenges for cause, the use of alternate jurors and deliberations, the judges brought in examples from past cases or situations in the courtroom.

For example, on the issue of a juror saying they think they can be fair, Hon. Shillingford shared her message.

“I’ll say to the juror … pretend you’re on the plane, headed to Bali. The pilot gets on and says, ‘Welcome, I’m looking forward to taking you to Bali,’ and the pilot says, ‘I think I can fly this plane.’ Do you get off the plane or not?” she said, to laughter.

Brooklyn Bar Association President David Chidekel.

Speaking about social media’s role in the process, Hon. Ash gave an example of a juror who shared on her Facebook page that she was serving on a jury, which attracted multiple comments that she did not answer. The Appellate Division eventually ruled that it wasn’t sufficient to set aside the jury’s verdict in that case.

As for deliberations, Hon. Shillingford discussed a case where a deliberating juror sent a note commenting that the prosecutor was cute, and maybe they would get her number after the trail. The defense claimed the juror was unqualified to serve because they had an eccentric personality. The appellate ruling said “eccentrics are not barred from serving on juries.”

The Brooklyn Bar Association’s upcoming CLEs will include “Summation the Final Battle” on Feb. 27; a class on the causes and preventions of wrongful convictions on March 27; and a civil practice law and rules (CPLR) update on April 2.

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