Nail-biters: Veteran trial lawyers recall jitters of waiting for a verdict

3 minute read

Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes arrives to attend her fraud trial at federal court in San Jose, California, U.S., December 17, 2021. REUTERS/Peter DaSilva

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  • Sleeping or eating? No way. Not when the jury's out
  • White-collar defenders, plaintiffs lawyers and other trial lawyers share thoughts about the wait

Dec 23 - No matter how many verdicts they've waited for over the course of their careers, it never gets easier.

That's what several of the country's best-known trial attorneys told Reuters as 2021 winds down with jury deliberations ongoing in some of the biggest cases of the year.

The jury in the fraud trial of Theranos Inc founder Elizabeth Holmes has been out for two days, and after a break on Wednesday is expected to get back to deliberations on Thursday morning. Jurors in New York federal court have deliberated since Monday in the sexual abuse trial of British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell. Meanwhile, a jury is on its third day of deliberations in the criminal case against Kimberly Potter, the ex-Minnesota police officer who fatally shot Black motorist Daunte Wright instead of using her Taser.

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As lawyers in those trials no doubt anxiously stand by while jurors deliberate, the lawyers Reuters heard from say the wait can be excruciating.

Their observations were edited for length:

"You can't eat or sleep, walk or talk. You can't work. You can't even read. You drink coffee in the morning, bourbon at night. Otherwise you are completely paralyzed until they come back."

— Reid Weingarten of Steptoe & Johnson

"Over the years, I have come to recognize that no real legal work is ever done while waiting. I am currently waiting on a jury with a fairly large trial team. We have passed the time ranking movies and TV series, playing various trivia games and eating lots of junk food. None of these activities make waiting any easier, but at least we are together in our misery."

— Jayne Conroy of Simmons Hanly Conroy

"For every minute of waiting, there is a mental hour of 'what are they doing in there' or 'what could I have done better?' I've taken to passing the time by playing mindless tablet games, and the only silver lining to long deliberations is my proficiency now in word scrambles!"

— Abbe Lowell of Winston & Strawn

"Each trial is fact specific, with the nature of the allegations and the personality of the client huge factors. Particularly in a high-profile case with the world watching, as the pressure is more intense as despite the quality of your efforts, if you lose you lost and if you win, you are a hero. As for how you pass the time, I have not yet found a way or a method to make the time pass quickly and with each note from the jury the heart begins to race and the tension mounts."

— Benjamin Brafman of Brafman & Associates

"Waiting for a verdict is excruciating. During my trial experience as a prosecutor and defense counsel I have played with deliberation times as predictors of the verdict: less than a half day is acquittal; less than a day is guilty. More than four days is a hung jury. My informal experiment has limited reliability but it does distract me for a while."

— Barbara (Biz) Van Gelder of Cozen O'Connor

"A lot depends on how long the trial lasts and whether the jury has questions. A short trial or a lot of questions mean that you are tethered to the court house. Otherwise, my preference over many years has been to find a bookstore nearby and riffle through books on familiar/favorite subjects that have nothing to do with my professional life. Art books are best."

— David Bernick of Kirkland & Ellis

(CORRECTION: This article was changed to correct the spelling of Daunte Wright's first name.)

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