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War Stories

September 12, 2016

 

Having been a litigator for a substantial part of my career, I’ve had some unique experiences which have led to some great “war stories.”  For instance, when I was nine months pregnant with my first child, I also happened to be in my first jury trial. I represented one of three defendants in the case, and I was the only female lawyer.  I’m rather short, let’s say 5’3” (even though the nurses in my doctor’s office insist on writing 5’1” in my chart, despite my constant badgering to correct the record). And, I gained a bit of weight during my pregnancy. Okay, maybe like half my normal weight in baby weight. But I digress.

 

As we began to voir dire the jury pool (which means screening those members of the public called to jury duty to decide whether to dismiss or keep each potential juror), the male attorneys wanted to ask each potential juror about my obvious condition and whether it would affect their ability to be fair and impartial. Translation: they were worried that the jurors would be easy on my client because of my condition. I objected to my condition becoming a central feature of the voir dire.

 

The judge settled the matter by asking the full venire (meaning the jury pool, rather than each potential juror one-by-one), whether they had any issues about my pregnancy. In his booming voice, to the whole courtroom he said, “Ms. Smith Dedrick is OBVIOUSLY EXTREMELY pregnant, does anyone have any issue with her condition or would it affect his or her ability to judge the case fairly?” I am not exaggerating, he emphasized “obviously” and “extremely.” It was not my imagination.

 

One woman raised her hand. So the judge called her, the court reported and all the attorneys to his chambers to hear her issue. Of course everyone was ready for what we expected would be her statement; that she would be more inclined to rule for my client.

 

“Well, Ms. M. what’s your issue?” The judge was not happy as she was interrupting the flow of his trial. “Well, judge,” she began as the court reporter’s fingers flew ready to record her every word, “I think it is absolutely disgusting for her to be in this courtroom at this time and before all of us. She is huge and should not be out in public. She should be at home ready to take care of her baby and her family. It’s a disgrace really, and I would not be able to give her client a fair shake.”

 

And there you have it! The judge dismissed her immediately and we all looked at each other astonished and walked back in to the courtroom to continue the trial. 

 

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