The Civil Government Litigator: A View from the Jury Box
28 Pages Posted: 3 Sep 2010 Last revised: 10 Jun 2011
Date Written: June 9, 2011
This article examines the role and responsibilities of the government’s civil trial lawyers from the perspective of two jurors, one a law professor and the other a novelist and self-described recovering lawyer. It begins by telling the story of a trial in which the authors served as jurors: a personal-injury case brought against New York City by a tenant who claimed to have been injured when the ceiling of her city-owned apartment fell on her head. The article then explores the role of the city’s lawyer, whose performance failed to live up to the jury’s expectations. The article suggests that the jury expected more from the city’s lawyer than it expected from the plaintiff’s lawyer and more than it would have expected from a lawyer representing a private landlord, in part because the city’s lawyer serves as the public face of the city and in part because she represents a government entity that has responsibilities aside from winning trials or minimizing the city’s expenditures. Among other things, from the jury’s perspective, the city’s lawyer should have conducted sufficient discovery to decide whether or not the city deserved to be found liable and to have offered a fair settlement if it did and a vigorous defense if it did not. Further, the lawyer should have promoted broader public interests, including the interest in encouraging future jury service by respecting the jurors’ time and the interest in correcting problems revealed by the litigation.
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