After Kramer presents his case against Java World to Jackie Chiles, Jackie tells him that if he gets “even one coffee drinker” on that case then Kramer is going to be a rich man. Could Java World actually prevent coffee drinkers from serving on the jury?
The 7th Amendment to the Constitution guarantees a right to a jury trial in civil cases (the 6th Amendment guarantees it for criminal cases) where the the amount in controversy exceeds $20. While we don’t know exactly how much money is in controversy here, it’s safe to assume that Kramer would be suing Java World for more than $20. Therefore, the civil suit can be heard before a jury.
(*Editors Note: As our post on “The Kiss Hello” explores, there are questions regarding whether this case would be heard in Federal or State court, as the Federal jurisdiction here depends upon on how much Kramer is suing Java World for; the case must exceed $75,000. Since Kramer claims he will be “a very rich man” is his lawsuit is successful, we can assume the case is to the tune of at least hundreds of thousands of dollars. In any case, New York State also grants a right to jury trial in civil cases for the injured party. So whether Kramer brings suit in Federal or New York State court, he has a right to a jury.)
Striking a juror based upon their race was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1986, but this ruling was limited to only apply to criminal cases. 5 years later, in 1991, the Supremes extended this ruling to civil trials, and then extended it again in 1994 when it found that striking a juror based on sex also to be unconstitutional and in violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Therefore, Jackie and Java World can’t discriminate based on race or sex when picking the jury. But what about coffee drinkers? Are they a protected class?
While the parties to a case cannot disqualify jurors based on their race or sex, jurors can be weeded out for cause if one of the parties believes that the juror will be prejudiced in their examination of the case. For instance, a juror that is related to one of the parties, has been previously employed by one of the parties, or has had some kind of prior interaction with one of the parties all are sufficient reasons to dismiss a juror. Being a coffee drinker may very well be such a legitimate reason that would make a juror biased or partial, and could be found to be unfit to serve in a potential Kramer v. Java World lawsuit.
Practically speaking though, how would this work? During jury selection, Jackie and the lawyers from Java World would each have opportunities to ask questions of potential jurors from the jury pool. This is called the Voire Dire. Dozens of jurors, far more than necessary to actually fill the jury, are gathered into a room and asked a series of questions by each of the parties that address whatever concerns regarding potential biases of the potential jurors. Being a coffee drinker would certainly be something both Jackie and Java World would want to know.
However, just because someone is a coffee drinker does not automatically make them partial. Striking a juror for cause is not as simple as that. Jackie or the Java World lawyers would have to fully elucidate, by asking each individual juror multiple follow up questions, why they, as a coffee drinker, are not able to remain impartial during the trial. If they can’t show that, then the juror won’t necessarily be considered biased, and will be considered fit to serve on the jury. Simply being a coffee drinker is not likely enough to render someone impartial.
As a further note, Jackie should not be so quick to assume that all coffee drinkers would agree that Java World is in the wrong. It is quite possible, as Elaine notes, that fellow coffee drinkers might find Kramer’s acts to be so outrageous, egregious, and preposterous that they would be partial to Java World. She claims she “wouldn’t give [Kramer] a nickel.” (Editor’s note: a statement like this is likely enough to show impartiality and disqualify Elaine from a jury)
Picking a jury is not a particularly exciting part of the trial process, but it’s a critical step in making sure that an impartial verdict is reached. Lawyers often try to tilt a jury towards their favor by striking jurors they find to have preconceived biases against their side. A shrewd lawyer like Jackie Chiles will spend hours and hours developing questions that reveal these potential biases, and demonstrate to a judge so evidently that they have reached the legal threshold to strike such jurors for cause.
What do you think? Do you think Kramer would want coffee drinkers on his jury? Or might they be partial to Java World?