As a judicial attorney, Kelly Roberts has a unique view of juries and jurors

By Frank Weir

Legal News

As Judge Donald Shelton's judicial attorney, Kelly Roberts has a view of juries and jurors like no other and she has some advice for trial attorneys.

"There's always a definite point where a jury starts to bond and to care about the case," she said. "When they first are chosen, some are not very happy about that."

But as the case begins, everyone on a jury gets involved, Roberts said, and realize, "Ok, this is serious."

She notes that juries appreciate brevity and strongly dislike it when attorneys are discourteous to each other.

"They tend to get the issues more quickly than attorneys may think. They truly are paying attention and working hard so I think it is best if attorneys are brief and try not to repeat questions too much."

And video depositions are high on most jurors' hate lists, she said, along with a reading of a deposition in court.

"When attorneys play a recording or read a deposition, juries just loath it. Videos seem to go on much longer than a witness testifying in court and there also seem to be many repetitions. Questions are not as concise and the jury really picks up on that. Live witnesses testifying would be much briefer and holds a jury's interest better."

And criminal cases affect juries differently.

"There often is a common sense of shock among jurors in a criminal trial. They are exposed to behaviors that are very foreign to them I think, and it is a highly stressful experience."

She notes that it is not at all uncommon for jurors in a criminal case to break into tears after rendering a verdict.

"It dawns on them that they are making major decisions about someone's life early in the process and they bond. They pay close attention to court proceedings realizing they will be determining someone's guilt and whether they will be imprisoned."

But after the experience has ended, Roberts believes most jurors are glad they had the opportunity.

In response to the recent sensational murder acquittal of a young mother in Florida, Roberts noted that, "I had the sense that her trial was far more complicated than the impression people were getting from what they read, heard or saw in the media. In any event, unless you are sitting on that jury, its impossible to comment on what their thinking was.

"Each juror has an individual mind set and the entire process is far more complicated than what you will see in a media report which tends to focus on whether a defendant was convicted or acquitted. That's all that the general public focuses on: conviction or acquittal, without realizing how complex the process is, how rules of evidence have to be followed and so forth."

She added that media coverage seldom explains why jurors are not allowed to hear or see certain information which further complicates and confuses the general public. And news stories do not explain the overall importance of the rules of evidence in a democracy, she notes.

Roberts developed an interest in attending law school even as a teen and her route to law school was less conventional than that offered by a philosophy major.

"I always liked arguing and felt drawn to a legal career early on. I felt a major in philosophy was a good fit for eventually attending law school since it emphasized reading, writing and analyzing and those were things I liked to do."

She remembers reading in high school, as many attorneys do, the book "To Kill a Mockingbird" and the impression it made. "I was very influenced by it. I thought Atticus Finch was the epitome of what it means to be a good person."

Although some parents might quiver when told by their child that a philosophy major was their choice, Roberts says her parents, Mary and Joseph Roberts, were supportive.

"My dad just said, 'Ok, I'm going to pay tuition for you to major in . . . philosophy? Go for it."

Roberts attended the University of Michigan as an undergrad and the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law graduating in 2003.

She practiced criminal law with Tom Moors for three years, then assumed her current position in 2007.

And of private practice? She admits she "misses the clients.

"I still get thank you notes and I really miss helping people since that's part of why I pursued a legal career in the first place. I love the idea of helping others."

And just what does a judicial attorney do?

"I prepare the judge's dockets every week making sure the judge knows what motions are coming up, that he has the briefs for them, everything he needs to take the bench.

"I schedule and conduct settlement conferences and I tell the litigants' attorneys the judge's views on a matter and how he would likely rule."

Roberts also researches specific legal questions and drafts opinions, tracking cases to make sure they are completed expeditiously.

"We run a tight ship. I put together jury instructions and stay on top of changes in the law that affect the cases we have. I just make sure things are moving smoothly."

And she is effusive in her affection for local practitioners and the three local Juvenile Court referees, Gail Altenburg, Molly Schikora, and Julia Owdziej.

"We have a great bench and bar here in general and I really look up to the referees. I love working with them. All the attorneys here are just a special bunch. I've enjoyed getting to know them all."

Roberts is actively involved with the Legal Resources Center board of directors and assists in its fundraising efforts. She also has enjoyed participating in the Bar Revue appearing in some of the sketches.

Single, Roberts lives in Ypsilanti Township and owns two German shepherds named Jack and Kaiser, who figure prominently in Roberts' Facebook postings, she noted.

Published: Thu, Dec 8, 2011