New Zealand Law Society - Initiating contact with a juror

Initiating contact with a juror

A Standards Committee concluded that a lawyer initiated contact with a jury foreperson in breach of the Conduct and Client Care Rules when the lawyer spoke with a colleague of the foreperson at a local café. The Committee determined that was unsatisfactory conduct and censured the lawyer and ordered her to pay costs.

The lawyer (A) and the foreperson (B) worked in the same building.  Not long after the jury trial was completed, A spoke with a colleague of B at a café.  The colleague reported the conversation to B, and B then complained about A. 

The colleague reported that, while they were waiting for coffee orders, A asked him if he knew B, told him B had been a foreperson on a case and said she was interested in discussing the case with B but was not able to approach her directly.  In contrast, A said she had only sought to reassure B.  She said she had anticipated that she would meet her in day-to-day access to and from the building.  A said it was for that reason she spoke with B’s colleague, to explain that she would not ask B at all about the trial if she saw her.  A said she told B’s colleague that B was “free to make comment about my performance or matters of the like to me but that I would not address the matter with her”.

The Committee acknowledged that the exact nature of the exchange between A and B’s colleague was not clear.  However, it considered it without dispute that a conversation had taken place, that the conversation only occurred because B had been a juror in the trial where A had been counsel and, finally, that A at least referred to B being “free to approach” her with comments.

The Committee concluded that A’s approach to B’s colleague “amounted to initiating contact with a juror after the verdict which invited, encouraged or welcomed further discussions…regardless of the intent or purpose of further discussions.”  The Committee noted that this left B feeling apprehensive and reluctant to be a juror in the future.

The Committee concluded that A had breached Rule 13.2.3.  That Rule sets out the circumstances in which a lawyer is prohibited from contacting jurors.  In the situation where a verdict has already been given, a lawyer “must not initiate contact with jurors…where the contact is likely to bring the system of justice into disrepute”.

The Committee determined that the breach amounted to unsatisfactory conduct.  It censured A and ordered her to pay costs of $500.  It did not order her to pay any fine.