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.

RGK

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