A couple of weeks ago, I selected a jury for a case. It took only a morning. We then got assigned to a judge that same day. The judge met with the lawyers all afternoon. With his help, we settled the case at 5:00 P.M. The next morning, I brought my clients to court to take the stand and testify "on the record" that they accepted the settlement. Afterwards, the judge brought the jury into the courtroom. "Jury entering," the clerk announced. We all rose for the jury. They took their seats in the jury box.
"Watch," I whispered to the clients, as we sat down, "they'll be so happy when they hear the case is settled, and they don't have to stay." Then, the jury proved me wrong. The forelady smiled, but the rest stared blankly. And I knew why. They judge did not give them the speech. He only said, "Your services are not required."
Two weeks later, I was in the midst of another jury selection when the case also settled. As we did not yet have a final selected jury, and we had no judge assigned, I gave this second group the speech. It went like this:
"Ladies and gentlemen, I have good news. You no longer need to serve. The case is settled. However, please do not think for one moment that we have wasted your time just because you did not get to hear the case. It is only because of your participation in the civil justice system that the case did settle. Once jury selection begins, both parties know that the moment of truth is at hand. They must focus on the case and realize the risks they face if the trial proceeds. Only then, when there is no turning back, can some cases finally settle. Therefore, you performed a vital service, and we thank you."
The civil courthouse is a dispute resolution center. Sometimes disputes are put to rest through a full trial and a jury verdict. Sometimes it happens by a settlement halfway through that process. Any judge worth his or her salt does not merely preside over a trial in ceremonial robes. A good judge will call the parties into chambers, roll up the shirtsleeves, and talk turkey with the lawyers, as a mediator, and try to settle the case. It is all part of the peaceful resolution of disputes in a forum provided by the government in a civilized society.