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Odd but Perfect Fit: Working-class values/CSI Effect

Working-class values and the CSI Effect should be mutually exclusive in legal persuasion, right? Wrong, I found out in interviewing the Rhode Island lead paint public nuisance jurors. They straddled both spheres just fine.

Those working-class values, which have become chic as we endure two recessions in less than a decade, celebrate compassion, community, resilience, and the work ethic. In "Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams," journalist Alfred Lubrano presents fresh prespectives on the world most of us baby boomers ran from.

The so-called CSI Effect, derived from popular crime TV shows, creates the expectation for and trust of scientific evidence. The RI lead jurors, primarily blue-collar, used both mindsets to come to a verdict. The hazards the children faced from lead paint were uppermost in their motivation to make the right decision. And they persisted through four months of a trial and eight days of deliberation to do just that, despite sickness and an abnormal lifestyle.

Simultaneously, they took copious notes - the court was one of the few which allowed that - to keep the so-called facts straight. They became deadlocked twice because of the lack of evidence. They got to a verdict only by pasting the judge's instructructions, which didn't require evidence, to the wall and going through them line-by-line. Subsequently the RI Supreme Court overturned the jury's verdict because of this lack of evidence.

My hunch is that these two very different modes of persuasion mesh in court because law is a unique institution. It's both rule-bound and subject to the community mores. Regarding the latter, the blue-collar ethos, just like in the counterculture 1970s, has become fashionable. That could change with an economic boom, which could revamp current legal rhetoric, especially for the plaintiff bar.

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.