Is there a particular case you think of when you think of a really effective Voir Dire?

I think it would probably be the voir dire I did in my first medical malpractice case. The defendant was a doctor in a non-profit hospital owned by a Catholic order in a very small community in which the overwhelming majority of the people where Catholic. I had a lot of trepidation about how in the world I was going to get an impartial jury in that type of scenario. I was terrified going into that case. Like all medical malpractice cases, it combined a whole lot of  trigger points. It’s always a little scary to go into a community and sue a doctor or a clinic. That’s what spurred me to apply to the Trial Lawyers College, so it was front and center in my mind when I was there.  I came out of the college with much more confidence in my ability to pick a jury. I no longer felt like I needed to go into it with the attitude of they are all going to be against me and I need to figure out how to get rid of the worst ones. I knew that the fact that the lawsuit was against a Catholic hospital was an issue I had to address straight up front because if you don’t talk about it in the courtroom you don’t know what they are going to be saying in the jury room. After being to the Trial Lawyers College, I felt comfortable just laying it out there and asking “How do you feel about the fact that we’re suing a non-profit hospital that is owned by the Catholic Church?”.

What kind of conversation opened up when you faced it head on like that?

At first it was pretty obvious that they were surprised that I was asking that question. There were a few people who said “I don’t feel comfortable with that. I’m a good Catholic and just don’t feel comfortable with that.”  Before going to the Trial Lawyers College, I would have immediately asked the judge to excuse them. But at TLC I had learned that they were giving me a gift that would help explore other people’s feelings.  If I had said “Your honor this witness has admitted she can’t be unbiased, would you excuse her”, then nobody else is going to admit to having that bias.   It would have just shut everyone down. So as soon as I had a person say that, I said “Thank you. I’m sure that you are not the only one who feels that way.” and I opened it up and explored the issue with all the potential jurors. Eventually, as we talked it through, pretty much all of them ultimately agreed that no matter who owns the hospital,  if someone has messed up, then the court system is the only place you have to go.  It really shouldn’t matter who owns the hospital. We ended up getting a jury that really understood that issue going in. I wasn’t worried about what they were going to be saying back in the jury room because we had talked that issue out thoroughly. They really brought themselves together. To this day, I don’t know how many of the people on the jury were Catholics and how many weren’t because I wasn’t keeping track. Before I went to the Trial Lawyers College, I would have probably been inclined to say “We are suing the Catholic Church, how many you here are Catholic?” and then just tried to figure out a way to get rid of as many of them as possible. It ended up feeling like that wasn’t all that important.   

What has changed in your practice after attending the College?

Going to the College took away a lot of insecurity about whether I was the type of person who could be a successful trial lawyer. I’m five foot two on my tallest days and I don’t have a big booming baritone. But the thing that I learned at the ranch was all the jurors really need is for you to be yourself. That was such a relief to learn that.

Why do you think voir dire is such an important part of the trial?

Well, the obvious reason is that it’s how you pick the people who are ultimately going to decide what happens.   More importantly, it the lawyer’s first chance to start showing the jurors that we can be trusted and position ourselves as the leader of the tribe.  The attitude you take into the jury selection process makes an enormous difference.  If you go into it with a chip on your shoulder thinking “I’ve got to find the bad people and get rid of them” –   that permeates the atmosphere. The jurors pick up on an adversarial tone and will see you more as someone who has something to sell than someone who is interested in what they think.

 

About Connie Henderson:

A Pacific Northwest native, Connie was raised in a small town in central Idaho and has lived throughout the Pacific Northwest for her entire life.   Her practice is dedicated to representing people who have suffered major damages as a result of the negligence of others.  She has been involved in numerous multi-million dollar personal injury and medical malpractice cases, and she remains committed to achieving verdicts and settlements that will help her clients rebuild their lives.  In addition to teaching at TLC, she also teaches at the University of Idaho College of Law trial advocacy program. Her volunteer activities have been focused primarily on children’s issues and education. She has been a member of the board of directors of the Northwest Children’s Home, Valley Boys and Girls Club, Lewiston Independent Foundation for Education, the Lewis Clark State College Foundation, and is currently a member of the University of Idaho College of Law – Law Advisory Council. In her spare time, she loves to be outside … snow skiing in the winter, and hiking in the summer. 

 

Come join Connie and the rest of the TLC faculty team at the Voir Dire Seminar in Leavenworth, Washington, March 17-20! Register HERE 

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