Citizens summoned for jury duty in high profile cases may not know Josh Dubin, but he likely knows a great deal about them.
For nearly 15 years, Dubin has served as a leading jury and legal consultant on major criminal and civil cases. He has written thousands of voir dire questions, watched hundreds of jury members file into courtrooms around the country, and is often sought by top-tier defense attorneys and plaintiffs' attorneys for his advice on jury selection, trial strategy and presenting facts in the midst of media storms.
In two seemingly disconnected cases earlier this year, juries convicted 19-year-old Dharun Ravi of using a webcam to spy on his roommate's gay tryst on the Rutgers University campus and millionaire polo tycoon John Goodman of DUI murder charges in Palm Beach, Fla. Although the trials were more than a thousand miles apart, defense lawyers on both cases sought Dubin's expertise.
As a creative writing major in college, Dubin did not envision his unique place in the court system until he interned for Amy Singer, a professor at Nova Southeast University in Florida who taught a course entitled "Psychology of Jury Selection."
"I learned so much about social psychology, and how to write questions and read the jury's responses from her," said Dubin.
Dubin joined Singer's firm, Trial Consultants, Inc. then based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after he graduated, and eventually launched his own firm, Dubin Research & Consulting in New York in 2002.
"It satiated my thirst for finding creative solutions to problems," said Dubin. "Going from case to case to case, I get to spend more time in courtrooms than some lawyers with twice as many years of experience."
Dubin worked on a wide variety of criminal cases including the racially-charged cases of Charles Schwarz, a police officer accused of assaulting Haitian immigrant Abner Louima, and the money laundering case of the Murder Inc. Record founders, Irv and Chris Lorenzo "Gotti." (Schwarz was convicted of obstructing justice and civil rights violations, but the conviction was overturned by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He was later convicted of perjury in connection with the Abner Louima case. For more on the Lorenzo case, see the next page.)
His experience in civil courts includes working with Grant & Eisenhofer on their $3.2 billion plaintiff case against Tyco.
With so many of his cases making headlines, Dubin continues to have concerns about the judicial system's ability to shield jurors from the influence of the media. With many media pundits passing judgment even before trials begin, Dubin is concerned that it has become harder to find unbiased jurors.
"In [such] cases, it becomes more difficult to find jury members unbiased by media reporting," said Dubin. Indeed, some jury members admitted to seeing snippets of news coverage of the Dharun Ravi trial in the waiting room of the courtroom.
Dubin argued that today's media attention on high-profile cases makes it especially hard for the defense to identify jurors who will review the facts with a "presumption of innocence."
"An effective jury consultant can help level the playing field, especially in a criminal case," said Dubin.
Barry Scheck, co-director of The Innocence Project, agreed. Scheck's group works to exonerate those they believe have been wrongly convicted through DNA testing. He has worked with Dubin for nearly a decade.
"Nothing is more important than the selection of a fair juror," Scheck said.
Gerald Lefcourt, a criminal defense lawyer who has consulted Dubin on nearly 30 cases in the past decade, said the work that Dubin and other jury consultants do can have a critical impact on a case.
"In terms of influencing the verdict, I'd estimate that jury selection is 30 to 50 percent of the case, depending on the facts of the trial," he said.
Dubin notes that the jury selection process has changed over the course of his career. "You don't have the ability to select anyone," said Dubin. "Jury selection is the wrong name for this. It should be jury de-selection. You only have the ability to knock off [potential jurors.]"
Earlier this year, Dubin worked closely with nationally renowned defense attorney Roy Black on the high-profile case of John Goodman, the Florida polo tycoon convicted of DUI-manslaughter and vehicular homicide.
"The Goodman case was a soap opera in Palm Beach, and it was virtually impossible to pick an unbiased jury," Black said.
Dubin points to one juror on that case as an example of his frustrations.
"In the John Goodman case, a juror had three vodka tonics during deliberation to see how it would feel to be as intoxicated as the defendant…he was also taking notes in the evening and writing a book about the case," Dubin said.
Dubin and the defense team are appealing the case on grounds of jury misconduct. The appeal is pending before the Fourth District Court of Appeals.
"It's easy to tell when people don't want to sit on the jury, but it's very difficult to weed out individuals who actually want to be on a jury since they're often willing to lie and say what they think the court wants to hear," said Black. "They can have an agenda from the beginning."
Despite negative press surrounding the case, Dubin found a more sympathetic jury for the 2005 money laundering case involving the Murder Inc. Record founders, Irv and Chris Lorenzo "Gotti."
"Many members of the community already had a negative impression of the rap industry, and we needed to be careful about who we selected," said Lefcourt.
Lefcourt brought in Dubin as an advisor on the case. "He has a unique sense of who needs to be stricken from the jury," said Lefcourt. "You can never pick the perfect jury, so it's more important to identify which jurors might threaten your whole case."
The Lorenzo brothers were acquitted of all charges in that case.