2022 Munsterman Award Bestowed Upon Kansas Judge
The National Center for State Courts proudly announces bestowal of the 2022 Munsterman Award to Johnson County District Court Chief Judge Thomas Kelly Ryan. The award is made not only because, during the pandemic, Judge Ryan made in-court improvements by creating a process whereby jury trials could be conducted without compromising participants’ health and safety. He also worked with PBS of Kansas City to create a TV broadcast titled Week in Review and a segment called “Justice Deferred.” The program was designed to get public feedback on the district court’s COVID-19 protocols to address public health concerns of jurors. PBS host Nick Haines had 12 members of the public join Judge Ryan on Zoom to react to the court’s health safety plans. The 12 participants answered questions about how they would feel coming to the courthouse and following Judge Ryan’s proposals such as long duration wearing of face masks or conducting voir dire and final deliberations by Zoom. By virtue of the PBS program, the court system made some adjustments to its original plans and gained confidence in the overall final plan. The revised protocols provided for more frequent trial recesses so that jurors could go outside and remove their masks for a breath of fresh air. More microphones were added to courtrooms to address concerns about jurors’ ability to hear the trial proceedings. Judge Ryan’s use of public media to test court initiatives is surely a worthy model for other courts to consider regardless of whether their initiatives are jury trial related.
NCSC Releases Educational Video for Prospective Jurors Regarding Impermissible Media Use
Learning that a juror shared information with fellow jurors about a case-relevant topic they discovered online or directly from someone else is a trial judge’s headache. To help educate prospective jurors about the consequences of impermissible Internet and social-media use, NCSC’s Center for Jury Studies has developed an animated juror education video that can be shown during routine juror orientation in the assembly room or as part of a judge’s instruction to the courtroom venire. The NCSC is grateful to the ABOTA Foundation for providing funding for this resource.
Was a Plaintiff Verdict the Product of Jury Misconduct and/or Jury Nullification?
According to the Lincoln Journal Star, a federal jury in Omaha recently awarded $700K to a police officer suing the police chief for gender harassment and discrimination in a promotion process. Now the city attorney has filed a motion challenging the verdict (Note: this link requires a PACER account) by alleging there were multiple juror communications with a former Omaha police officer AND the jury wrongfully practiced “jury nullification” by trying to “send a message” to the city. An opinion from the trial judge may eventually clarify whether “sending a message” is a lawful form of jury nullification. The Jur-E Bulletin (perhaps with help of readers) may eventually be able to report any clarification.
SCOTUS Declines Certiorari in Capital Case Where Defense Failed to Strike Jurors Firmly Opposed to Biracial Marriage—a Circumstance of the Victim and Perpetrator
In Thomas v. Lumpkin, Andre Thomas, a Black man, was sentenced to death by a completely White jury for brutally killing his estranged wife, a White woman. In his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court from earlier denial of his habeas corpus petition, Thomas claimed ineffective assistance of counsel. He relied on circumstance during jury selection where three venire members expressed firm opposition to interracial marriage and procreation in their juror questionnaires. Among other reasons, these jurors opined that such relationships were against God's will and that people “should stay with [their] Blood Line.” Despite their declarations of bias, Thomas’s counsel not only failed to exercise peremptory strikes on these individuals or move to strike them for cause but failed even to question two of the three jurors about their stated bias and whether it could affect their deliberations. Without objection from Thomas’s counsel or the state’s attorney, the three jurors were seated. Together with nine other white jurors, they convicted and sentenced Thomas to death. Justice Sotomayor wrote a critical dissent from the Court’s denial of Thomas’s cert. petition criticizing the lower courts and SCOTUS for allowing these “most grave and serious [juror] statements of racial bias” to go uncorrected.