An in-depth, behind the scenes look at Shadow Juries was offered by Kansas City’s The Pitch news monthly.
The weekend before the PSF trial’s start, employees for a company called Nolan Research made cold calls to Jackson County residents and said they were looking for people to participate in a market-research project. About 50 recruits who’d been promised $50 each went to a meeting at the Embassy Suites hotel near Westport. At the hotel, each was given a questionnaire to fill out and a nondisclosure agreement to sign. On February 2, 13 people received telephoned instructions to show up at the Jackson County Courthouse at 8 a.m. the next morning.
The shadow jurors entered the courtroom at the same time as the real jury and were ushered to the defendants’ side of the gallery. They had been instructed not to speak to anyone except one another, which is why those who were interviewed by The Pitch requested that their identities be kept confidential.
An older man with sloping shoulders and quick, darting eyes — the shadow jurors knew him as “Jack” — was the enforcer. During breaks, the shadow jurors were herded into an isolated corner of the fifth-floor hallway. If one of the men had to use the restroom, Jack went with him. Women shadow jurors went in pairs. Any who missed a day of the trial were kicked off the project. Each night, they were expected to wait by the phone for a call from L&E Research, a company based in Raleigh, North Carolina. The caller would survey their opinions of the day’s proceedings.
The case, which was tried in February of this year, involved Premium Standard Farms, a pork manufacturer facing a nuisance claim from the neighbors of Premium’s 80,000-hog farm in northern Missouri.
The article describes both the challenges and the allure of shadow jurors, who may provide critical feedback and insights as to how the opposing side’s case is being received.
In the Premium case, for reasons not clear from the article, the shadow jurors’ view of the case diverged from that of the real jury. Perhaps the shadow jurors did not tightly match the demographics or the real jury; perhaps they determined which side had hired them; perhaps they were not debriefed correctly. Or maybe it was just bad luck.
But the promise of shadow jurors, especially in high-stakes trials, is almost irresistible. CVN has seen several cases recently where one side was swinging for the fences, only to be stunned by a verdict demonstrating that the jury had during the course of the trial become hostile to that side’s story. Armed with such foreknowledge, a timely course correction in closing argument could be worth millions.
But it is the cost, rather than any hostility to the concept, that makes shadow juries less common than they might be.
Until technology once again changes the equation.
CVN’s live webcasts allow virtual shadow jurors to watch the trial without coming to court, which broadens the pool of potential participants. As a result, virtual shadow jurors can be recruited more effectively, more quickly, more accurately, and less expensively.
Morever, due to CVN’s live evidence feed, these “virtual shadow jurors” can see the exhibits as clearly as the jury does, which may not be true of the view from the courtroom gallery. And, of course, the opposing side may have no idea that a shadow jury is working the case.
Most important, these “virtual shadow jurors” can be debriefed in real-time, rather than at the end of each day, providing more and better feedback — and faster feedback, too, with the potential to inform cross-examination or re-direct.
With a larger pool to recruit from, fewer logistical difficulties, and better communication, a litigant can get better results for less money — or deploy a larger shadow jury for more reliable results.
Ask whether virtual shadow jurors might be a possibility for your next trial. Below are listed some of the many jury consultants who provide shadow juror services.
Jury Consultants Offering Shadow Juries