Financial Hardship for Samuel L. Jackson? How Celebrities Get Out of Jury Duty

The potential for distraction or influence generally does not convince judges to dismiss celebrities, says Los Angeles litigator John Gatti.
Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

Samuel L. Jackson reportedly was dismissed from jury service in a Los Angeles courtroom Tuesday after he told the judge he couldn't serve due to his commitment to shoot a film this month and in October.

Of course, Americans around the country are called for and serve jury duty even when it’s inconvenient for their work schedules. Why not Jackson?

Sharon Arkin is one of the lawyers for the plaintiff in the case for which Jackson was called. Although she was not present for jury selection, she tells The Hollywood Reporter she is not surprised Jackson got dismissed.

"About half the number of people called for jury duty are expected to get dismissed due to hardship, especially for a trial expected to last three weeks," she says, adding Jackson's claim his work would be impacted was a valid reason for asking to be dismissed.

Robert Dugdale, a federal prosecutor in Los Angeles for more than 18 years, says he never has had a celebrity on a jury, but he has seen several serve as jurors in federal criminal trials.

"The same standards are applied to celebrities called to serve on jury duty as the standards applied to everyone else," says Dugdale. “They, like all citizens qualified to serve as jurors, have a civic duty to serve."

Invoking a hardship in order to be dismissed is common during all jury selections, he says, but judges can "see through" who is just trying to get out of serving and "can usually distinguish such jurors from those who have a legitimate need to be excused from jury service due to a financial hardship or some other hardship to themselves or others that would exist as a result of their jury service."

An argument for financial hardship sounds inapplicable to Jackson, whose movies apparently have grossed the most combined of any actor. However, notes attorney E. Barry Haldeman, celebrities could argue their absence from production shoots could cause financial hardship for the crew and producers, which Jackson reportedly did.

In most cases in which jury service would hamper a production, the celebrity would postpone jury service rather than receive a dismissal, says Los Angeles litigator John Gatti, though Jackson already might have postponed his service as much as he could. “My overall experience is that judges have made it very difficult for anybody to get excused from the jury pool," he tells THR.

The potential for distraction or influence generally does not convince judges to dismiss celebrities, says Gatti, adding that a former co-worker had January Jones serve on his case years ago. He finds judges more reluctant to excuse celebrity (and industry) jurors than they were 10 years ago.

"In the past, we were able to work with the system and get even executives who were in entertainment companies excused because of the demands of their jobs, but today, that’s not the situation," he says. "In today's system, 'celebrity' is not going to be deemed an excuse."

"With respect to the issue of celebrity, the Los Angeles Superior Court treats all jurors the same," says a representative for the court, adding that the court can make accommodations for celebrity jurors' safety.

Some lawyers do have concerns when a celebrity is called in for jury selection. “I have heard a reluctance by some lawyers to impanel jurors who work in the entertainment industry because working in a profession that calls upon you to use your imagination and creativity may make you more inclined than others to fill in the evidentiary gaps in a case in a way where imagination serves as a substitute for reason," says Dugdale.

Adds Haldeman, "From a litigator’s point of view, you may or may not want to remove a celebrity from the jury pool because it would seem to me a celebrity has much more weight in the jury room than anyone else."

However, Dugdale contends such stereotypes often lead to the wrong conclusion. "I would not, in the case of a potential juror who was a celebrity, assume that their professional persona indicates whether or not that celebrity will be a favorable juror for my side," he says. "I would not assume that just because Samuel L. Jackson played the role of an FBI agent in Snakes on a Plane, he would be predisposed to favor the government in a case involving the FBI."

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