Jury duty, anyone?

One of the unexpected joys of this blog has been the smart and interesting people who interact with me. That is particularly true of several lay people who are very insightful and who often have fascinating life stories. Also, they are often remarkable writers.

One of those people is Heidi who, with her husband and partner Steph, lives in Northern California and runs businesses that cater to the outdoor type. See here and here. Their life stories are particularly interesting and heart-warming. See here.

Entitled “Jury Duty, Anyone,” Heidi sent me an e-mail describing her experience as a prospective juror in a small California county. It is a wonderful bit of reportage and provides valuable insights into the minds of the people we ask to serve as jurors.

I asked Heidi if I could reprint her e-mail, and she agreed.  Here it is:

I was called for jury duty the other day. We get called all the time since we have such a small population in the county, and a lot of it doesn’t vote. Usually, we are forced to mingle with the lowlife masses who arrive in cutoffs, tank tops a few sizes too small, and more tattoos than one might think possible, despite the voluminous areas of bare skin (I just dropped about 10#, so I am suffering from skinny-chickitis, (or as I usually phrase it, I’m experiencing uppitybuttisms). Flip flops are not a rarity with this crowd. Nor is a heavily cigarette-wreathed breath.

That’s because our area of expertise is small claims court. We’ve had to sue a tenant or guest a few times, and we have to be there before all the lowlife have hearings for their drug and/or alcohol abuse treatment and/or anger management classes and/or community service, etc., even though all of those cases are handled first.

However, there was a fine caliber of folks in the groups the other day and the one open seat in the hall was next to John, a guy who helped me with Steph’s iphone. Then we talked about our motorcycles since I’d ridden in on a brisk morning and had my MC jacket on and carried my pink helmet (several guys needed to tell me they would have ridden, but it was too cold); then we were on to what we do for a living.

He’s in merchandising for Live Nation, the world’s largest entertainment conglomerate, and tours the world on concert tours. I believe the wrongful death suit by Michael Jackson’s mom was against Live Nation. John just wrapped up a long European tour with Roger Waters from Pink Floyd. He says Roger’s concert is great and he loved it every single night.

Next comes 2 years of Justin Timberlake, which he dreads, but as long as JT doesn’t get hurt and finishes it (there are breaks throughout), that will be his last tour; he’s retiring. We had such a good conversation going that when we were both selected for the same trial, we fell back in together, saving seats for each other as we were put into and removed from one courtroom (that would be the wrong one), and then shuffled into another. We chatted until we were both seated as jurors.

It was a criminal case and the person I believed was the defendant’s lawyer was nicely dressed, slightly long but tidy hair, looked normal in every way. He was visually superior to every lawyer I have seen in this courthouse. Most look like unmade beds. But he turned out to be the defendant. He would be representing himself, and as such, the judge explained, he was not allowed to sit at the table next to the DA. He had to stand behind the railing and lay his papers out on the rail. He had a lot of papers, and a full brief case, too.

So, a favorable appearance at first and second glance, but then he opened his mouth. Every sentence was stated with smooth elocution and remarkable speed; it was clear this guy rattles his rants off all the time, and I thought of you and wondered if you’ve had the type in your courtroom. The defendant rambled on despite several warnings by the judge that they needed to seat a jury before he could give his opening statement.

Unfazed, the defendant continued, explaining it was germane to the type of juror he was hoping to ferret out (my words). He especially wanted to make sure we could pay attention to the fact we as individuals in the US are sovereign entities and that this country can not legally require us to do anything.

News to me.

 He challenged everyone who had the taint of having worked for any public agency, as well as anyone related to someone who had. Seat #2 was designated by the judge as the hot seat, which often happens during a trial. Over and over, people barely sat down before being excused.

 The ADA was a pretty, young, fairly capable-seeming lawyer, although she often needed guidance on when and where to challenge jurors, but the defendant was far worse. Most of the prospective jurors had peremptory challenges down after a few go-rounds, but he never did get up to speed. And don’t even think about excusing someone for cause. A full 2 minutes after the judge had done this for the wife of a CHP, he and the defendant were still sparring over whose challenge tally she would fall on. Nobody’s was not an option the defendant could absorb.

When a prospect said it would hurt her to serve because she has a nail business and is currently her family’s sole breadwinner, since her husband has been furloughed because he works for a federal fish program, the defendant crowed, “Oh great! Obamacare!”  I wondered just how many people he could offend before having officially begun his case, but soon lost count.

The judge estimated the case might take 1 to 2 days, but as the minutes dragged on, the defendant began asking prospective jurors if they could withstand a trial that could go 5, 10, 15, even 20 days. And what were the charges? Driving without a valid driver’s license. Sum total.

I glanced down the row at my buddy and we exchanged quizzical looks. After two hours of this nonsense, I asked if we might have a restroom break, and the judge gave us 10 minutes. I met up with John and we agreed it would be a very long day or two if we were chosen, but we were willing to suspend preconceived notions and hear the guy out. Same for the women in the bathroom, although most were rolling their eyes over Mr. Constitutionalist. We have a fair number of these guys up here. Some are multi-talented and share billing as survivalists and gun nuts.

Anyway, John got the boot in hour 3, and I was tossed about half an hour later. Even the women in that group were pretty cool. Mostly conservatives, I suppose, but friendly and outgoing. I went to the post office afterward and one of the other women in the group walked by and said she was bounced right after me. I thought it interesting the ADA used a peremptory challenge on me, and not the defendant, although he might have done it later. He was whizzing through people at quite a clip. Perhaps the ADA read my slight smile at the defendant’s rants as being sympathetic to his cause.

We are supposedly not called for another year, but usually are. We have a pretty shallow voter pool. Tomorrow is a rare day off with a motorcycle ride down the mountain to a ski swap in Redding. Our rationale is we can’t go crazy and buy much if we’re on our bikes, plus the weather is delightful now for riding. Crisp and colorful up here, 70s in Redding, where triple digits are common all summer. Hope you have a good Saturday, too.


25 responses

  1. We’ve had a few sovereign citizen pro se trials this year in our local courts – the court staff and law students love them, I’m not so sure about the judges. The sovereign citizen cases rarely seem to rise to the level of dignity and decorum that many judges like to have as a professional baseline for their courtrooms. The movement seems to regard the law as something that can readily be “gamed” by the use of specific terms and phrases. While I certainly see a level of manipulation that is possible (and sometimes actual) in the justice system, it is still a _justice_ system, i.e., these guys tend to miss the justice part and just treat the process like a closed system that they can “cheat code” their way through to victory.

    say what you will about law school, but it defies reason to believe that it is a three year induction process into a nationwide conspiracy. Yet: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJ4c5atUjsE

  2. I’ve sat on a number of juries, and I’ve been non-selected from a number of other jury pools, and I’ve even asked to be excused from consideration for jury pools over the incompetence of the county attorney, but I’ve never encountered a…defendant…like the one Heidi encountered.

    That person was, umm, amazing.

    Eric Hines

  3. While I resisted terms such as gamed and cheatcode, it appeared this was where the defendant was headed. His numerous pompous posturings in questioning prospective jurors were starkly contrasted by the ADA, who simply asked us as a group whether we could find a person guilty if she proved that person had violated the penal code.

    It seemed the judge gave more leeway to the defendant than was reasonable, which added substantially to the time it took to seat a jury. Why did the judge allow the “5, 10. 15, 20 days” question without some kind of redress? Perhaps he allowed it and others to ensure the defendant had thoroughly cooked his goose before the case had begun.

  4. Another reason, suggests this ignorant Texan, might be that the judge bent over backwards to give the defendant slack so that, on conviction, there’d be minimal grounds for time-wasting appeals.

    Eric Hines

  5. I don’t know if it is avoid any grounds for reversal, as Mr. Hines posited, though certainly no judge I’ve met relishes the thought of getting reversed. The sovereign citizen crowd is usually trying to get a case dismissed by being such a waste of time for such a small offense that charges are just dropped, IMHO.

    It just wouldn’t be fair to come down on the sovereign citizens that hard, they’re generally only fighting traffic infractions and misdemeanors, they’re generally more interested in arguing policy than facts or law (and the jury selection process can be an abused venue for such “explorations”). The judge can shut them up on the egregiously argumentative or factually deficient stuff, but otherwise I think most courts prefer to let these guys and gals play out as much rope as they want…

  6. Did the ADA object? If the ADA was content to let the defendant waste his voir dire on dumb questions, I’m not surprised that the judge didn’t intervene. A good judge will usually try to let the parties try their own cases.

  7. The ADA objected to little (other than me). The judge deserved credit for patiently explaining each step, even if he did let those steps take a very long time. I have seen another judge up here curtly cut off witnesses and lawyers to keep the ball rolling faster, which did seem a disservice.

  8. I’m not a follower of the sovereign citizen movement in general, but Judge Kopf may be familiar with them, as they tend to make their appearance in federal court in criminal tax cases. Sometimes just willful failure to file (26 USC 7203), but also more elaborate, organized tax fraud schemes involving mass Schedule C or EITC fraud.

  9. Jay,

    I am familiar with this group both from my earlier law practice and from work as a judge. They can be very tiresome. All the best.


  10. Question from a Brit relatively new to this country. Does a Resident Alien, aka Green Card holder, qualify for the status of Sovereign Citizen in the example given in this post. Not that I’m anticipating being a defendant any time soon ( I hope! ).

    Fascinating blog, Your Honour! 😉

  11. The sovereign citizen movement is considered a domestic terror threat by the FBI. They often engage in “paper terrorism”, filing frivolous lawsuits to clog the justice system. There have been documented physical attacks on law enforcement and other public officials as well. As a federal probation officer, I am aware of individuals following the movement coming under the supervision of our system and engaging in paper terrorism against their supervising officer. This can affect the officer’s personal financial status as they use various civil filings as a method of disruption. See Wikipedia for more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sovereign_citizen_movement

    Bottom line: if you are a public official, law enforcement officer, etc. dealing with an individual that expresses this ideology, it is not something to dismiss lightly.

  12. I’ll hazard a guess on this one; although Judge Kopf’s caveat nearby applies to this guess, also.

    The “sovereign entity” movement seems to take its thrust from an amalgam of Rousseau’s “the people are the government, and the government is the people” and our own Founders’ improvement on that, that the people are sovereign over our government, which is not us, but our employee.

    The sovereign entity movement also seems to miss the only place where an individual man is “sovereign over everything:” in the state of nature talked about by Hobbes, Locke…and Rousseau. The movement thereby misses the salient problem with that “natural man’s” (to slightly misuse a term) supreme sovereignty: that he is free to do as he will, regardless of what another man might do. Of course, the only man who actually can do that, the only man with real “sovereignty,” is the strongest man, and what others may do is at his sufferance.

    And that’s why men formed their social compacts in the first place: to draw a line in the sand and say rather that a man is free to do as he will, so long as that does not interfere with another man’s freedom to do as he will. Such consensually agreed limits were driven for the most part by the one overriding right that every man has, imbued in us by our Creator: his right to his own life.

    On the point of a circumscription of what a man may do, Locke also was quite explicit: any man whose right was interfered with was free to exact what sanction he saw fit, including death. Locke weasel-worded his way around the primacy of the universal right to life by saying that when one man interfered with the freedom of another, the first man achieved two additional things: he placed himself outside the social compact, even if he began as a member, and so was no longer under the protection of the compact; and that man placed himself in an active state of war with the compact–and all members were enjoined to join with the victim member in returning the war to the violator–including killing him, if needs be.

    The French Revolution, especially under the Committee of Public Safety, became the epitome of that theory in execution [sic], and the poster child of the extreme to which such a theory can be carried. The American evolution of that (which predates the French Revolution by a few years) was to produce a pair of written documents that lay out the terms of reference and the means of carrying into execution our particular social compact–including in the present discussion, who is allowed to carry out sanctions for transgressions, what those sanctions can be, and under what narrowly defined circumstances they might be exacted. In practice, case law in constitutional matters has extended the applicability of our social compact’s requirements to non-citizens.

    In sum, you’re not a Sovereign Citizen under the precepts of the example offered in OP; none of us are. And given the French example, you don’t want to be. None of us do.

    Finally, I echo the Judge’s remark: welcome, heartily, even if belatedly (since, given our current immigration system, your possession of a Green Card implies either that you’ve been here awhile, or you’ve been trying to be).

    Eric Hines

  13. It can involve more than just paper terrorism against a supervising officer. Swatting ebbs and flows in its frequency, but it’s a real threat, in a number of dimensions.

    Eric Hines

  14. Dear Eric,

    See also the Posse Comitatus movement. I literally ran into those folks when representing banks during the farm crisis of the early 1980s. I spent a lot of time way, way, way out in the sticks by myself. It is the only time in my life when I seriously considered carrying a gun. In the end, I decided against doing so, but I was very, very careful.

    All the best.


  15. Yeah, those guys. And Montana militiamen, who give militias a bad rep. These guys all are of a piece, differing only in the details of their tactics and the tone of their rhetoric.

    As to whether you should carry a gun, I offer the following. Learn, first, how to maintain your gun (I recommend a semi-automatic pistol; it’s the most flexible and easily used in the broadest variety of situations. (I won’t go into your purpose for having/carrying a firearm; that’s none of the government’s business and is wholly irrelevant to the right to do so (and that’s not aimed at you; it’s aimed at government generally (and if I can think of another reason to nest parentheticals, I’ll nest further))). Maintaining includes disassembling completely, cleaning and oiling where appropriate the constituent parts, and reassembling it. Only after you’ve done that, learn how to shoot it accurately. Then get your jurisdiction’s concealed carry license. I’m one of those right-to-bear nuts that considers it entirely appropriate for a man to demonstrate to government’s satisfaction a basic ability and judgment in the use of a potentially dangerous device, like a car or a gun or a medical practice as a precondition to carrying outside one’s private property (so long as the licensing requirement isn’t used as a device to restrict for restriction’s sake). The concealed carry license is for more than “mere” legality, though; the added training (in legitimate courses) in both how to shoot and the relevant law is worth the price.

    Overriding all of that, though, is this: If you’re not prepared, emotionally, actually to shoot another human being, don’t carry the gun. It’ll only add to the danger you face.

    Eric Hines

  16. Thanks Eric. Not meant as flattery just a statement of opinion: that is that there are some clever people around. So much to learn, so little time!

    Just been across to your own blog A Plebe’s Site – one to read later!

    Anyway, thanks to you and Judge for the welcoming. Had a Green Card since April 2011 and, therefore, accepted now beyond the 2-year conditional period. Not able to apply for citizenship until I have held residency for 5 years; held it without blemish, of course!

    Came here as a result of being invited to spend Christmas 2007 in San Carlos, Mexico, with the sister, and her husband, of a long-term Californian friend, Dan Gomez, who was my West Coast distributor back in the early 1980s when I was running a software company out of Colchester in the UK (software for the Commodore ‘PET” which dates me!). Anyway, Suzann, Dan’s sister, had as her close friend an English woman, Jean, who had lived with her American husband in Mexico for many years. Jean’s husband had died in 2005.

    Well Jean and I quickly became inseparable and I moved out to San Carlos in Sept. 2008. But not speaking Spanish and finding the Mexican culture very strange, Jean and I decided to move to Arizona in 2010. I obtained a fiancee visa, Jean and I were married, and subsequently I was granted residence. Then in October 2012 we moved to our current location near Merlin, OR because our well in AZ was showing signs of dropping water levels.

    Just adore it here – together with our 9 dogs, 5 cats, 2 ponies, 4 chickens ….

    Whoops! Sorry Eric, didn’t mean to lull you into a gentle doze! What was your question again? 🙂

  17. Paul, Welcome to your citizenship, too, when you get it. Contra some, the US needs fresh blood, fresh eyes, and fresh ideas–and how better to get those than through immigration?

    I recall the PET–my computer at the time was an Osborne I, running CP/M.

    And, you’re right–the Judge’s blog is an excellent place in which to learn stuff.

    Eric Hines

  18. Thanks Eric. Not sure about fresh blood; I was born in London in 1944. Interestingly, Jean was born a few years later just 23 miles away from me in London!

    Osborne I running CP/M. Golly, you were dedicated!

    I became the 6th UK CBM dealer in early in 1979. Couldn’t even spell Commodore DOS! But as luck would have it, had been an Office Products salesman with IBM UK selling their 20,000 GBP word processing machines. Then in 1979 met a programmer who as a hobby had written a WP program for the ‘PET’. When I first saw it, I wet myself. Despite being unfinished, the program had 3/4 of the features of an IBM system. I was offered the rights to sell the WP software, we called it Wordcraft, and became a great success.

    Just one lucky SOB!

  19. Paul,

    Fascinating story. Thanks very much for sharing it.

    Back in the late ’70s, and out in the sticks, I remember hearing about this amazing thing called an “IBM System Six.” Our little office couldn’t afford it, but it sure sounded wonderful. Anyway, we stayed with our IBM Selectric typewriters with magnetic cards. I built a magnetic card portfolio system for creating wills, trusts and corporate documents–by checking a form, the lawyer could tell the typist what cards to select and what data to input at the “stop codes.” That was long ago and far, far away.

    All the best.


  20. Paul, Helps to be in the right place at the right time. CP/M was the better OS in every respect but marketing.

    Word processing: I brought Lanier’s word processing machines to my test and eval squadron. Our secretaries (to further date myself) worried about their job security from these labor-saving devices. No sweat–their work load doubled from the possibilities these things opened up; they just needed some training.

    Other than that, I grew up on WordStar, which was better than all of its competition in every respect but…marketing.

    Eric Hines

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