Posts tagged ‘Jury Service’

April 15, 2011

An Experiment on Jurors’ Perceptions of Women Advocates

by Angela N. Johnson

Cartoon by Stu's Views

This article reports on an experiment conducted at a program sponsored by the ABA’s Woman Advocate Committee entitled “He Said/She Said: Jurors’ Perceptions of Women Advocates.” The program was designed to test the reactions of male and female mock jurors during two 10 minute closing arguments, both made by women attorneys using contrasting presentation styles (one aggressive, the other more fact specific).  The results were analyzed based on the jurors deliberations and careful post-experiment questioning.

Interestingly, the survey revealed that male jurors liked the aggressive approach.  Some of the women, on the other hand, viewed the aggressive approach as “scary.” Women jurors also commented on the clothing worn by the presenters, stating they found a mid-calf length skirt with a side slit slightly above the knee and a silk blazer with a high sheen “distracting” (Mahoney 1999).

After the experiment, jury trial experts spoke on establishing credibility.  While the statements given did not seem empirically tested, they are worth considering.  For example, one panelist said that jurors typically view male attorneys as more competent but that a female litigator who demonstrates her competence is viewed as having more credibility.  One way women litigators can establish credibility is to demonstrate command of the facts, law, and if appropriate, technology.  Their first “speaking roles” can demonstrate competence by making well placed objections, responding convincingly to objections or question from the Court (Mahoney 1999).  Another panelist noted that jurors take their cues from the manner in which the judge and male co-counsel treat women litigators.  This means that using a woman litigator as a “bag carrier” is risky because a juror may view the behavior as sexist and hold that against the client when weighing the evidence (Mahoney 1999). In sum, the program demonstrated that female litigators still have an initial hurdle to overcome at trial but “once jurors determine a female litigator is competent, they are more likely to accord her and her client greater credibility than an equally competent male litigator” (Mahoney 1999).


Source Citation: Mahoney, Kathleen M. “He Said/She Said: Jurors’ Perceptions of Women Advocates.” The Woman Advocate (American Bar Association Section of Litigation), 1999: 4-6.

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March 18, 2011

Burnita Shelton Matthews: Pioneer, Lawyer, Feminist, Judge

by Angela N. Johnson

Christine Wade’s biography of Burnita Shelton Matthews provides valuable insight into the life of a pioneer, lawyer, feminist, and the first woman judge of the Federal District Court Bench. Burnita fought for suffrage, jury service, and women’s equality. She was born in Mississippi on December 28, 1894. Burnita’s father, Burnell Shelton served as Clerk of the Chancery Court and Tax Collector for Copiah County, Mississippi. Burnita often accompanied her father to his office in the courthouse and became comfortable in that environment from an early age. Her mother died when Burnita was just 16, leaving Burnita to care for her four brothers and father. She married Percy Matthews in 1917, the same year Burnita started law school at what is now George Washington University. Percy was a lawyer serving as a judge advocate general in the U.S. Army and supported Burnita’s decision to go to law school. Burnita’s father, despite sending two of his sons to law school, refused to finance her legal education. Thus, Burnita took a job as a clerk in Veteran’s Administration – where she worked all day and attended night classes. During this time, Burnita spent many Sundays picketing the White House for woman suffrage (she was a member of the National Women’s Party). This was a risk in light of her ambitions to become a lawyer. Realizing an arrest record would keep her from practicing law, she would not speak during her protests (it was against the law to speak without a permit). Nevertheless, Burnita passed the District of Columbia Bar in 1920. However, the DC Bar Association returned her application and check for dues (as was the typical practice for women applying for membership despite being licensed to practice law).

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