Do geeks make good jurors in tech cases? Not always

Federal judge says too much knowledge can be a dangerous thing for a jury

Should geeks serve on juries in disputes that involve high technology? Not necessarily, according to a federal judge, speaking at a computer security conference Thursday.

While technical cases can be challenging, sometimes too much knowledge can be a dangerous thing for a jury, according to Judge Jeremy Fogel, with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, speaking at the GFIRST conference in Orlando.

"Any time you put someone on the jury who has subject matter expertise there's a risk that person can have undue influence on the jurors." he said. "You have to weigh that against he benefit of having somebody who knows the subject matter."

"My experience has been that if you get someone who actually does work in the field of technology... you probably wouldn't want that person on the jury because I'd worry about them having a disproportionate impact."

This idea of avoiding people who are too close to the subject in dispute is a common principle in jury selection. "In a case involving alleged police misconduct, would you want a police officer on the jury?" he asked.

On the other hand, there's no harm in having someone with a computer or science background on the jury, so long as they aren't too close to the matter in debate, he said.

Fogel should know what he's talking about. He has presided over some of the most high-profile cases affecting the technology industry from his Silicon Valley courtroom. He was the judge on Yahoo's Nazi memorabilia case , ruling that an overseas court could not dictate what the company sold through its auction services, and in 2004, he ruled against voting machine maker Diebold's attempt to use DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998) takedown notices to suppress publication of e-mail messages that documented flaws in its technology.

With its high concentration of computer geeks, Silicon Valley often yields jurors who know more than the expert witnesses brought before the court to explain technical matters, he said, or "at least they think so," he added.