Bob Buckley for The Examiner: Working Toward Better Juries and Fuller Justice

May 4, 2021 

Bob Buckley, partner at White, Graham, Buckley & Carr, is a regular columnist for The Examiner of East Jackson County. In his latest column, Buckley outlined a new mandatory jury instruction that deals with juror bias, and how other biases impact legal cases.

The article, Working Toward Better Juries and Fuller Justice, was published in the April 30 edition of The Examiner. An excerpt from the article is below.

Last week, I attended a continuing education seminar by Zoom. Before COVID, I obtained most of my educational requirements by attending the annual meeting of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys (MATA) at the Lake of the Ozarks each June.

We are required to have 15 hours each year, and three of the 15 hours must be devoted to ethics and, of that three hours, one must be devoted to explicit or implicit bias, diversity, inclusion or cultural competency. This requirement preceded the Black Lives Matter movement and was not a reaction to the events of 2020. The Missouri Bar and local bar associations have been focusing on diversity issues for several years, but the requirement of devoting one hour of education to these issues is only two years old.

Last year, I attended my annual meeting of MATA by Zoom and will probably do so again, although the organization is planning limited in-person seminars. I miss the camaraderie of the convention as I have developed friendships from all parts of Missouri, and it is always great to spend time with my friends in the law. The seminar last year devoted an hour to implicit bias, which is an interesting concept. Implicit bias is a phenomenon in which we have attitudes toward people or associate stereotypes with them without our conscious knowledge.

There are many kinds of implicit or unconscious bias. Affinity bias is the tendency people have to connect with others who share similar experiences, interests and backgrounds. Confirmation bias is the inclination to draw conclusions about a situation or person based on your personal desires, beliefs and prejudices rather than on unbiased merit. Conformity bias is essentially peer pressure, the tendency people have to act similar to the people around them regardless of their own personal beliefs or idiosyncrasies.

The horns effect is the tendency people have to view another person negatively after learning something unpleasant or negative about them. The halo effect is the tendency people have to place another person on a pedestal after learning something impressive about them. Ageism is the tendency to have negative feelings about another person based on their age. Gender bias is the tendency to prefer one gender over another. Beauty bias is a social behavior where people believe that attractive people are more successful, competent and qualified. Anchor bias is when someone holds onto an initial, singular piece of information to make decisions. Nonverbal bias is analyzing nonverbal communication attributes such as body language and letting it affect a decision or opinion. Authority bias refers to when an idea or opinion is given more attention or thought to be more accurate because it was provided by an authority figure. My personal favorite is the overconfidence bias, which refers to a person’s tendency to be more confident in their capabilities than they should be.

The seminar I attended last week was sponsored by the Eastern Jackson County Bar Association, and the speaker was a friend who is one of the best lawyers in St. Louis, Gretchen Myers. Gretchen is a former president of MATA. She is also on the Missouri Supreme Court Committee on Jury Instructions. That committee is charged with drafting jury instructions in civil cases that instruct juries on how to consider evidence and render verdicts.

Gretchen’s talk about jury instruction did not teach me much I did not already know until she began talking about a new instruction on juror bias. This instruction is now read in all civil cases and is mandatory. This instruction reminds jurors that justice depends on careful and fair decisions based on conscious and unbiased analysis of evidence in the case.