When I started trying cases about 25 years ago New York County (Manhattan) was considered to be a plaintiff-friendly venue due to juries’ proclivity to render favorable verdicts. Today the plaintiffs’ bar views Manhattan juries quite differently.
Litigators often attribute this to the elimination of jury service exemptions, which meant that many of the more conservative leaning professionals who reside in Manhattan who routinely avoided jury service could no longer do so. But other lawyers saw a different reason – that jury pools were skewed so that minorities were underrepresented in comparison to their proportion of the population.
A study was done in 2006, and last week Governor David A. Paterson signed into law the Jury Pool Fair Representation Act. The Jury Pool Fair Representation Act requires the collection of demographic data for jurors who present for service and for the submission of such data in an annual report to the governor, speaker of the assembly, temporary president of the senate and the chief judge of the court of appeals.
The laws purpose is to determine whether jury pools in New York State represent a fair cross-section of the community as required by section 500 of the Judiciary Law. The new law adds section 508 to the Judiciary Law. In 2006 Citizen Action-New York released a study suggesting that minorities are severely under-represented in civil jury pools in New York County, confirming what practitioners in that jurisdiction have observed for years.
The study was made in response to a particular concern expressed by members of the bar that people of color and Hispanics appeared to be underrepresented in the jury pools from which judges and litigants pick juries in Supreme Court, New York County. Citizen Action of New York tallied the apparent race and Hispanic status (based solely on the persons appearance inasmuch as interviewing the jurors was prohibited) of Manhattan residents reporting for jury duty at jury assembly rooms for a 12-week period from November 2006 to February 2007.
The survey of over 14,000 prospective jurors confirmed that people of color and Hispanics were substantially underrepresented, measured by their proportionate share of the population of Manhattan, using the 2000 U.S. Census results for the borough to determine the actual makeup of the population. On the other hand, whites were substantially overrepresented.
The highest degree of underrepresentation was among Hispanics. Specifically, the survey found that for civil and criminal courts combined, whites were overrepresented by 43%, Blacks were underrepresented by 42%, and Hispanics were underrepresented by 77%. For example, although according to the census whites comprise 54.4% of the population in New York County, whites represented 77.7% of the jury pool. In contrast, African-Americans comprise 17.4% of the population but only 10.1% of the jury pool. Similarly, Hispanics comprise 27.2% of the population but only 6,3% of the jury pool. The Citizen Action study attributed these disparities to out-dated mailing addresses, lower response rates to jury summons, and increased disqualification.
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