July 18, 2011 Articles

A Trial Lawyer's Guide to LGBT Issues in the Courtroom

Trial lawyers should consider a few things to avoid the inadvertent unfair or disrespectful treatment of LGBT judges, jurors, witnesses or others in the courtroom

by James A. Reeder Jr.

The composition of juries has changed over time, either as a result of changes in the law or as a reflection of changes in the composition of society. As such, jurors have gone from being all white and all men to both men and women, and then to men and women of all races. Perhaps surprisingly, one change that has not occurred is in regard to the service of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals on juries—as far as we know, there were gay men on juries 70 years ago. What has changed in regard to LGBT jurors—and for LGBT lawyers, judges, witnesses, and courtroom personnel, for that matter—is the degree to which they are open about their sexual orientation and the extent to which, at the very least, they are comfortable with and confident in who they are.

Few people could argue that these developments have produced anything but positive results in the judicial system. More representative juries do not merely honor a civil right or a constitutional ideal but provide an effective tool for achieving more thorough and competent jury deliberations. Studies show that diverse juries reason better, not just as groups but as individuals; everyone on the jury benefits, and justice, it appears, is better served. Moreover, increased gender, racial, and ethnic group representation, especially in a system where those groups sit in judgment of others, contributes to the elimination of real and perceived inequality in justice administration. The equal, fair, and respectful treatment of all is the touchstone of the American judicial system and the foundation of our society.

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