A retired San Luis Obispo Superior Court judge recently found himself in an unusual location in the courtroom — sitting in the jury box.
Attorneys arguing a civil trial chose retired Judge Christopher Money to serve on the jury, which goes against an unwritten rule among lawyers to never pick an attorney or judge to be on a jury.
Money said lawyers involved in trials often shy away from picking a judge or another lawyer for a jury because of perceptions about how they might apply the law.
Lawyers also sometimes fear a legal expert would become overbearing alongside other jurors who don’t have a background in law.
The recent civil case involved a dispute between a landlord and tenant over whether an inspection of a San Luis Obispo site was valid and didn’t break a contractual agreement.
Money said he was not the foreman and allowed his peers on the jury to conduct much of the discussion without saying too much. They came to a unanimous agreement in favor of the defendant after a two-week trial.
“I didn’t expect to be selected, but I’m glad I was because it gave me a different perspective than I had as a judge,” Money said. “I thought the jury did a tremendous job. They listened carefully and were very thorough in their deliberations.”
Susan Matherly, the county Superior Court’s executive officer, said she can’t recall a local judge serving on a jury in recent years, though she said nothing prohibits them from doing so.
Matherly said that when she worked in Los Angeles County’s court system, judges were occasionally picked for juries.
“It isn’t common, but it happens from time to time,” Matherly said.
Local lawyers Roy Ogden and Dennis Balsamo tried the recent lawsuit that concluded Friday before Judge Donald Umhofer in the Paso Robles court. Each felt Money could be a fair juror.
Each also could have removed him from a pool of more than 60 potential jurors by using a legal challenge that doesn’t require having cause.
“I relied on the strength of our case and felt Judge Money would be fair,” defense lawyer Ogden said. “He’s an intelligent guy and understands the law.”
Balsamo, attorney for the plaintiffs, said he thought Money would be “completely” fair in deliberations and that he might give other jurors some legal guidance if necessary.
“I didn’t think his presence would be more or less beneficial,” Balsamo said. “ I’m not happy with the jury’s decision, but I respect it.”
Money said he was happy to spend time in the “beautiful courthouse” in Paso Robles and said the experience taught him that “juries pick up on things quickly and lawyers don’t need to repeat points several times they often think they need to go over.”
Landlord wins school leasing case
A jury returned a verdict last week favoring landlord DW August Co. in a case that involved a school leasing property from the company in San Luis Obispo.
The lawsuit’s allegations included trespassing and invasion of privacy.
The owner of the Laureate School in San Luis Obispo, Eucasia Schools Worldwide, claimed the plaintiff cut a chain across the parking lot and entered the school without permission from school officials by way of a locksmith making a new set of master keys.
The lawsuit also alleged DW August accessed the plaintiff’s computer system, looked at papers, “maliciously” switched telephone and fax wires, and failed to secure a rear door, leaving the school’s confidential student and employee records unsecured, according to court documents.
The trial lasted two weeks and no money was awarded to the plaintiffs after a verdict came back Friday, according to Roy Ogden, who defended DW August. Plaintiff attorney Dennis Balsamo said he didn’t want to discuss details of the case.