BROOKE GLADSTONE: Last month, Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant became the latest in a long line of celebrities to become a defendant in a high profile court case. A Colorado woman has accused him of rape, and he faces some hard jail time if he's convicted. We're still a long way off from the actual trial, but already the "nabobs are nattering." [COLLAGE OF CLIPS OF NATTERERS]
MAN: There is a little different standard in the justice system for people who are well known -- celebrities.
MAN: It is remarkable to me that someone.... WO
MAN: Fox News has not used the 19 year old woman's name even as her name has been mentioned on radio talk shows and has been widely circulated on the internet along with her picture, telephone number and addresses.
MAN: How big a deal? I mean Kobe Bryant changing his story I think is going to become very significant. Up to now we keep saying--
MAN: I think we've learned a, a good lesson here from the Scott Peterson case. What happens when things are released--
MAN: -- it just creates--
MAN: -- an, an uproar.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Nowadays when it comes time to select a jury, lawyers are choosing among people who are already drenched in the details of the case and wise to the ways of the courtroom. Dr. Jo-Ellan Dimitrius is a jury consultant who's worked on some of the biggest celebrity cases of the past decade including those of O.J. Simpson and Rodney King. Using such tactics as telemarketing and mock trials, she helps lawyers navigate potential jury pools to identify their perfect jurors. Dr. Dimitrius, welcome to the show!
JO-ELLAN DIMITRIUS: Oh, thank you very much!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Do you get the sense that juries are more savvy about the legal process than they used to be?
JO-ELLAN DIMITRIUS: Oh, definitely! And I think because of Court TV and the court television shows we hearing the voir dire process a lot of jurors talk about things like sidebars, preliminary hearing, things that oh, maybe five, six years ago we never heard people talk about!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Have the media played a greater role in determining the outcome of cases or at least the composition of juries?
JO-ELLAN DIMITRIUS:We have actually integrated the technological advances, if you will, in the media and what we do in research, and I'll give you an example. In the O.J. Simpson case, Court TV had the proceedings where Rose Lopez testified in front of Judge Ito out of earshot of the jury. The judge was going to determine whether or not he was going to allow the jury to hear that testimony. We got those Court TV tapes and actually played them to focus groups to see how they evaluated Rose Lopez. Based on that information, our recommendation to the trial team was not to put on that testimony to the jurors -- and that's in fact what happened.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:In the Rodney King case there was this video that was played practically round the clock. I don't know anybody in America who didn't see it and who wouldn't be influenced by it. I wonder how you worked around that, or, or did you work with it when selecting the jury?
JO-ELLAN DIMITRIUS: We definitely had to work with it, because we knew obviously that people were influenced by it before they got into the courtroom. We had one juror that we were considering who shared with us that her husband thought basically that the officers should have been shot on sight. The attorneys loved this woman because her own personal views were, you know, she wanted to wait to hear the evidence. She thought she could be fair and impartial. But I knew that at the end of the day, this woman would have to go home to her husband and if in fact she was part of a jury that acquitted these officers, she had to live with him! She didn't have to live with the jury. Well the lawyers won out, and she was on the jury, and when the verdict came back, she was the juror that led the cause to convict Officer Powell. So the media had influenced, in this case, her husband, and I knew that it would be very difficult for her to go back with an acquittal, and, and that's what happened.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:You know sometimes it seems like lawyers deliberately release information through the media to pollute the jury pool before the case is anywhere near trial. For instance, Scott Peterson's lawyer, Mark Geragos, suggested that Laci Peterson had been murdered by members of a satanic cult! Is that standard practice?
JO-ELLAN DIMITRIUS: I can honestly say that in every high profile case I have worked on, for either the prosecution or the defense, there has been an active engagement in trying to get information through the media to what would ultimately be the jury pool. But you have to be very, very careful about the information that you release cause it can come back to haunt you. Let's just give a hypothetical since you mentioned Scott Peterson and Mark Geragos. He's put that information out about satanic cults. Well, if through the investigation that's found to just kind of die its own death, then he may suffer the aftereffects of that at trial which is he was just trying to hang anything on the wall to try to get his client off.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Do you think it makes for a better jury if the members come to a case with absolutely no pre-conceptions, and in fact is that even possible in this media-saturated age?
JO-ELLAN DIMITRIUS: [LAUGHS] Well you're right. It is not possible. And I've got to tell you that if someone like that walks into a courtroom, I hold them suspect because you kind of wonder what they've been up to that they haven't read the newspaper, listened to the radio, watched TV; that just is very, very rare.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:It reminds me of that really old joke, you know, somebody says "Well I can't have a jury of my peers because everybody sitting there is too stupid to have gotten out of jury duty."
JO-ELLAN DIMITRIUS: [LAUGHS] Well you know the states now have really cracked down on people getting out of jury duty, so I'm, I'm happy to say that jury panels generally are becoming much more representative of the folks that are out there.