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There  is no shortage of high profile people in Los Angeles, so it seems that there is no shortage of celebrity lawsuits here… and they are closely watched.  

People  take notice when celebrities become involved in the legal system. 
Live updates are tweeted from court.  People talk about high profile cases on
social networks and among friends and coworkers.  Currently, people are talking about Reese Witherspoon’s recent arrest and about the Jackson family’s wrongful death case against AEG, but it seems like there is always a high profile case in the news.  Defendants like Jodi Arias and Casey Anthony become big names as a result of cases that take a life of their own.  Whether it is a  celebrity’s involvement in the criminal justice system or a high-profile person’s involvement in a civil matter, these cases shape the public’s knowledge, awareness, and perceptions of our legal system in significant  ways.  
 
But what happens when you have to strike a jury in a case that involves a celebrity  plaintiff or defendant?  I recently spoke with an attorney who was involved in a trial with a very well-known entertainer.  When the trial was over, most jurors “ran”over to the celebrity plaintiff to speak with him after finding in his favor.  The attorney said that the jurors were “fawning” over the actor even though each and every juror had said the plaintiff’s celebrity status would not have an impact on
his/her view of the case.  What happened?  

In many ways, celebrity favoritism is no different than any other kind of bias.  Some people may not admit to their bias, and some may even try to hide strong feelings or attitudes.  More commonly, potential jurors may not understand just how strong their impression of a celebrity is or how their feelings about that person will influence the way they think about a case.

How do you approach jury selection under these circumstances?  If the celebrity is opposite your side, how do you identify the people who say they won’t be influenced but who may “fawn” over the celebrity after the trial is over?  If you are
representing the celebrity, how do you spot those who may have negative feelings about your client?  
 
Following are 5 jury selection considerations for trials that involve a celebrity or high  profile individual.

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Case research is important, but don’t underestimate the impact of having a celebrity present in  the courtroom. 
Mock trial or focus group participants may feel more distanced from a well- known person if they are watching videotaped deposition testimony.  After all, they may be accustomed to seeing that person on TV. So, the impact of the celebrity may be muted in research.  That celebrity may have a larger than life presence in the courtroom, particularly if the celebrity is present each and every day.  This is especially the case if other well-known individuals are going to testify at trial.       

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A juror questionnaire is extremely important in cases with a high profile
individual.
 

Jurors are more apt to disclose attitudes and experiences on a questionnaire than during oral voir dire, particularly when feelings or experiences may indicate bias.  Include several questions, including an open-ended question, when asking about their impressions and thoughts of the celebrity.    

Multiple questions give us a better indication of how someone truly
feels, and you can follow up on inconsistencies during oral voir dire. When psychologists create personality tests and measures, they often try
to include at least four questions that tap into the same concept.  Furthermore, questionnaires can be developed that give us an idea of how strongly people feel about issues.  Allow participants to indicate their strength of opinion (e.g., strongly agree, somewhat agree, etc.) on multiple choice items.    

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Social networking is particularly important in high profile cases.  

Care must be used when monitoring social networks so it is done both
ethically and legally, but ethical use of social network monitoring during jury
selection is very important in these kinds of cases.  For instance, look for public Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram profiles. Which jurors have liked
or followed celebrities?  Those individuals may show a higher degree of celebrity favoritism.  Have any of the potential jurors posted about their courtroom experience on a social network site or blog?  

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Get everyone talking with open-ended questions.  

Potential jurors often take the easiest way out with questioning. Many will talk as little as possible. If you give them a  “default” by asking whether they will be fair and impartial, many will take that opportunity and say “yes.”  You
won’t learn about their true attitudes or opinions.  Ask questions that get people talking and that give them little opportunity to cut their answers short:
   
     "How do you feel about…" or "Tell me more about…"

When someone admits a bias, thank them and ask, "Who else feels that way?"  Open the discussion up to the entire panel in an attempt to loop everyone in when someone admits a bias.  This can help promote disclosure among others in the venire.

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Closely monitor the venire during jury selection.  Who is spending a lot of time looking at the celebrity?  

Look for subtle nods when questions are answered by other jurors.  Some people will subtly show that they agree or disagree by nodding even when they don’t speak up.  Look at reading materials.  While many people use e-readers or smart phones for their news, some will bring in books and magazines.  When the venire comes and goes during breaks, look for anyone who is reading pop culture newspapers or magazines.  

 
 
Remember the beginning of American Idol every year where countless individuals brag about their ability to sing, only to reveal that they have no singing talent whatsoever?  I’m confident that some of these individuals know that they can’t sing, but we Americans will sometimes do almost anything to get on television.  However, some of these contestants really seem shocked to learn that singing will never be their thing – ever!  They stand in shock.  They cry.  They proclaim that the judges will be sorry when they become huge singing stars.  What exactly is it with these people?  How did they get to this point in life with so little awareness of their actual abilities?  Don’t they have a clue?

Human nature is an amazing thing, and sometimes we blind ourselves to our true abilities.  If there is one thing we will always do, it is protect our self-esteem.  We all want to look good in front others.  Almost everyone feels that he or she is a good, reasonable person.  We want to see ourselves that way, and we desperately want others to see us that way.  We regularly see this in every jury selection.  Here, members of the community gather in a formal and unfamiliar environment.  They are asked whether they can be fair and impartial in order to meet their civic duties.  These questions guide and lead members of the venire to say “yes.”  Once again, we want to seem fair and impartial, especially in front of an authority figure (the judge) and a room full of individuals we don’t know.  Some prospective jurors will respond “yes,” even though we know they can’t be fair under any circumstance in our case.  This is the equivalent of one of those early contestants on American Idol bragging about her singing abilities, only to croak out a horrible rendition of a Whitney Houston song.     

I’ve seen many, many instances.  One recent instance that stands out is a product liability case where a young man was gravely injured.  His injuries were so severe that one could not help but feel for him.  Because this happened in a relatively small town, the judge did not automatically excuse members of the venire who knew the plaintiff or his family.  One eager individual in the jury pool, whom we will call Sarah, walked in and openly acknowledged the plaintiff and his mother.  Sarah greeted them with a “hello” as she walked into the courtroom.  During questioning by plaintiff’s attorney, Sarah downplayed any involvement with the family and was adamant that she could be fair because “she did not know both sides yet.”  She stressed that she would be “open” until she heard all of the “facts.”  She said she had not yet made up her mind.  Sound familiar?   

Now, it was our turn to speak with Sarah.  We had very few peremptory strikes left, so we wanted to preserve them as best as we could.  Had we just moved into questioning about her ability to be fair and impartial, we would have gotten nowhere.  Instead, we opened her up.  I told my client just to get her to talk.  Ask her broad questions about how she knows the plaintiff’s family.  When does she socialize with them?  What has she discussed with them about the case?  My client interviewed her beautifully, in a manner that I call “talk show style.”  It turned out that Sarah was good friends with the plaintiff’s mother.  Sarah had even been at the hospital on the day of the injury.  She had spoken at length with the plaintiff’s family about the case, and she socialized often with the family.  She ended her questioning by emphasizing she could be completely fair to the defense.  Sarah wanted on the jury, badly. 

Was this a case of no insight, of someone just wanting to be viewed as a fair and reasonable person, or did she want to be on the jury to take care of the plaintiff?  In the end, it really didn’t matter.  Everyone in the courtroom saw what we see at home when we watch an American Idol contestant painfully butcher a song.  Sarah was clearly wrong about her ability to be fair and impartial, and everyone in that courtroom knew it.  Sarah was dismissed for cause.

Sometimes jurors may have a secondary gain to serve as a juror, but more often than that, sometimes they just can’t really see that they are not a good fit for a particular case.  Rather than closing these prospective jurors up with close-ended questions like, “can you be fair,” open them up with open-ended questions.  Get them talking.  Think “Oprah,” by asking questions in a talk show format that make the prospective juror talk.  Start broadly, and then get more specific.  This way, whether that individual sees it or not, his inability to be fair will be crystal clear when you move for cause. 

Just like American Idol, sometimes song choice is key.  Just because a juror can’t be fair in one case does not mean she couldn’t be a fair and impartial juror in another case.