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Celebs and jury duty don't always mix

tom hanks with fan 660 reuters.jpg

Actor Tom Hanks (C) tries to take a picture with a fan after the New York Knicks played the Los Angeles Clippers in their NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden in New York, February 10, 2013. Actor Christopher McDonald (R) watches. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL) - RTR3DLLE

They may have multiple mansions, fast cars and big pay checks, but even A-list of celebrities are like the rest of us in one important way: they can't get out of jury selection.

Last month, Tom Hanks was asked to sit on the jury of a Los Angeles domestic assault case, in which the defendant was facing a year behind bars, but a mistrial was requested after an attorney in the L.A City Attorney’s Office approached the two-time Oscar winner outside the courtroom, a big no-no. As a result, lawyers for both parties settled on a smaller charge and fine for the defendant.

Indeed having a star on a jury can have all kinds of unforseen consequences.

“Celebrities have magnet personalities and people are drawn to them and can be heavily influenced by them. Advertisers know this and so do trial attorneys,” Beverly Hills-based entertainment attorney David Albert Pierce explained. “Most fellow jurors would be hard-pressed to apply independent judgment if Tom Hanks is a fellow juror with deep feelings about how the case should be decided. The same may not be the case for fellow jurors if one of the ‘Real Housewives’ or the ‘Jersey Shore’ kids are on the jury.”

So how exactly does a celebrity juror affect the deliberations?

“A celebrity can influence other members of a jury panel and prevent others from properly evaluating a case. Some individuals on the jury may defer to the celebrity’s conclusions of a particular issue instead of forming their own conclusions,” New Jersey attorney, Darren Del Sardo, said. “If a juror really likes that celebrity and that celebrity has more credibility than others, the juror may be likely to be influenced. If the celebrity has a bad reputation, people may be inclined to have a different opinion.”

Of course like the many in the general population, celebs also try to wheedle their way out of jury duty, often using the rationale just mentioned.

“I have helped celebrities get out of it by claiming they are a distraction and by showing the court they are a security risk and the cost of keeping the celebrity will be prohibitive,” said alternative sentencing expert, Wendy Feldman. “Nobody likes jury duty.” 

Well, not quite nobody.

“It seems the bigger the star, the more excited they are about actually participating in the process,” Pierce added. “It allows them to briefly come off their celebrity perch and feel like a regular person.”

 

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