Charla Aldous, a widely known Dallas trial lawyer, wasn’t sure at first what to make of the offer.
In her email inbox one day was correspondence from a TV casting agent, gauging her interest in an unscripted courtroom show called “You the Jury.”
“The first thing I did was have a PR firm that I work with check it out,” Aldous says. “Only after they told me, ‘Yes, this guy is legit,’ did I call him to find out more about the show.”
It’s easy to see why Aldous was initially unsure.
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There are many courtroom shows — daytime television is teeming with them — but there has never been one quite like “You the Jury,” which premieres at 8 p.m. Friday on Fox.
Imagine if, instead of run-of-the-mill small-claims disputes, a courtroom show could take on polarizing big-concept cases involving free speech, religious freedom and gay rights.
The high-stakes civil case in the series premiere, meanwhile, involves an accusation of murder, although charges were never filed and therefore no criminal court trial took place.
Imagine also if, for five minutes after opposing lawyers make closing arguments, viewers at home can serve as the jury — voting via text messaging and the Fox Now app, the same way they might have for their “American Idol” favorites.
Although the court proceedings were filmed in advance, the viewer votes will be live and their verdicts will be binding.
Aldous couldn’t resist. She agreed to be one of six lawyers representing clients on the show.
The founding partner of Aldous\Walker in Dallas has handled more than 200 jury trials in her career. Her firm specializes in cases ranging from personal injury and wrongful death to sexual assault and medical malpractice claims. “But I have never done anything remotely like this,” she says.
Some other attorneys participating are Jose Baez, who won an acquittal in the Casey Anthony murder trial; Benjamin L. Crump, who represented families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown; and Joe Tacopina, whose high-profile clients have included Alex Rodriguez, Don Imus and Jay-Z.
“The way it worked is Fox would send me a case and I could decide whether I wanted to handle it,” Aldous says. “I wanted to make sure they were cases I feel passionate about. As it turned out, I was very interested in both of the cases that were sent to me.
“One involves defamation via social media. I think that is a really hot topic right now. How far can we go with freedom of speech on social media when it relates to other people’s lives?”
Aldous says she and the other attorneys gave their “You the Jury” cases everything they had.
For the few days leading up to the taping of my episodes, I was working 15 and 16 hours a day, just like getting ready for a real trial.
“I got the materials for my cases several weeks in advance,” she says. “When I arrived in L.A. and started meeting with my client and witnesses, it was very intense preparation. For the few days leading up to the taping of my episodes, I was working 15 and 16 hours a day, just like getting ready for a real trial.”
Aldous began her practice in Sherman, her hometown, after graduating from the SMU Dedman School of Law in 1985. Eight years later, she moved to Dallas. Now her firm handles cases all over the country.
“I usually represent people who, but for me, wouldn’t have a voice,” she says. “A pauper can take on a huge corporation and get justice through a trial by jury. That’s what I love about what I do.”
One of her most cherished cases dates back to the 1990s: Ashcraft v. Conoco. Aldous represented trailer park residents in Wilmington, N.C., who sued the oil company for polluting their well water with MTBE, a gasoline additive. The case settled while the jury was deciding punitive damages.
“My clients gave me a gold-plated guardian angel lapel pin, saying I was the angel that God had sent to protect them,” Aldous says. “I wear it now every trial.
“It always is meaningful to me to know that I truly made a difference in those people’s lives.”
You the Jury
- 8 p.m. Friday
- KDFW/Channel 4