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Roger’s Rules

Annals of Justice, Division of Jury Duty

March 23rd, 2013 - 7:08 am

Our government, I am more and more convinced, has degenerated into a mechanism whose most palpable effect (not its purpose, of course) is to irritate citizens by wasting their time and requiring their collusion in an endless bureaucratic paper chase.

It being the end of March, some of you might think that I have the preposterous ceremony known as tax preparation in mind.  That, certainly, would be a fit subject for beady-eyed scrutiny, not to say comedy or a psychiatrist’s intervention.

But I am not thinking about that outrageous offense against common sense just now. No, my theme for the day is jury duty. Perhaps there is a way to avoid it altogether. I have not yet discovered the way, though I regularly put it off for as long as convenient.  It turns out that, this time around, that terminus ad quem was Friday, March 22, at 8:30 a.m. That was when I, together with another hundred or so of the local huddled masses, shuffled into an ugly, box-like “jury assembly room” to be regaled by Barbara, a clerk of the Court, about the privilege of serving as a cog in the great machinery of American justice.  A judge joined her briefly to explain such concepts as impartiality, discretion, and the presumption of innocence.  Then we were treated to a short (but not that short) video expatiating further on those and kindred themes. The television set was then given over to sports and various left-wing news programs retailing the depredations and backwardness of Republicans about such topics as gay marriage and abortion.

None of it made a noticeable impression on the citizen in front of me, whose cap was emblazoned with the words “Sons of Anarchy” and an image of a grinning, becloaked skeleton  brandishing a species of halberd or pike.  I was going to ask him whether he thought it was really possible for an ordinary person to assess such cases as were likely to come before us “without bias,” as we had been enjoined, indeed, had been required to swear (or affirm), to do. I lost my chance, however, for I was distracted by the large female behind me to the left. She may have been a model of impartiality when it came to personal injury cases, but she clearly had a pronounced bias towards the ingestion of calories.  It was not her girth that arrested my attention, though, but her iPhone. It tinkled early and tinkled often, and she supplemented its summonses  with an antiphony of “Happy Birthday,” sung repeatedly in a soft, but only intermittently melodic, alto.

It was now about 10:00.  I was deep into Anthony Everitt’s superlative biography of Cicero, appropriate reading, I thought, for one forced to linger in the antechambers of a court of law.  It was amusing to contemplate what the great advocate and orator would have made of the proceedings.  It seemed unlikely that there would be any latter-day Sextus Roscius for him to defend or Verres or Catline for him him to attack.

There wasn’t. Barbara came back to describe the first case. Car A hit Car B, or so it was alleged.  Anyway, I gathered that’s what the driver of Car B said, and he (or she) was sticking to his story.  The dramatis personae was announced, including the attorneys involved: I knew one of them! Instant disqualification.  I was feeling pretty good.  Barbara left us.

Time moved on slowly in the jury assembly room. I had positioned myself near the back of the room, taking care that a pillar obscured my view of the podium (and the podium’s view of me) as well as the television, which, I noted at one point, featured a raspy-voiced feminist assuring her audience that Republicans were out of touch with the needs of women. My watch read 11:30.

Next case: Medical malpractice! The hand of fate reached into the hat and pulled out 25 names at random. As each name was read off, its owner stood.  I was number 24.

Surveys were distributed. There were scores if not hundreds of names of individuals and institutions.  Did we know any of them? If so, in what capacity?  Once again, a couple were known to me, but it would take an interview to impart this critical bit of information. One o’clock stole upon us.  What Wodehouse describes as that not unpleasant feeling of emptiness that is the silent luncheon gong of the soul had sounded.  We had 60 minutes to heed its call.  I made my way to the 2nd floor, which advertised a cafeteria.  I saw to my dismay that, in my case, at least, that sensation of emptiness was going to have to be prolonged.  I surmised that a “Bubba Burger” was not calculated to please the Kimball palate. I made my way sadly back upstairs and waited. And waited. Potential Juror Number 1 was interviewed. Ten minutes later, it was Number 2’s turn.  Some more time passed.  It was about 3:00 p.m. when Number 14 was called, 4:00 before they got to Number 20.  I was reading with relish about how Cicero, when consul, had summarily dispatched Lentulus and several other Catiline conspirators, ordering them dropped into a hole in the state prison in the Forum and strangled. Efficient, I thought. (What would he have done with drones?)

4:30 came. The once bustling room was occupied now by myself, slouched unhappily in my chair, and a woman who paced back and forth in her hat and coat, muttering into her cell phone and eying the clock plaintively.  Barbara popped her head into the room. “Is someone still in there?” she asked. Neither my pacing partner in melancholy nor I had the will to answer that rhetorical question. Barbara padded over to the interview room for a word with the Perry Masons inside.  “You can go,” she proclaimed magnificently on her return: the pacer and I, presumably, would be granted our audience on Monday. It was now 4:50.  Eight hours and twenty minutes.  The “Sons of Anarchy” was a nice touch.  And the “Happy Birthday” lady offered a moment’s amusement.  The awful power of state had commanded the presence of some 100 citizens.  Most were freed within a couple hours. A few of us were less lucky. Was it the wheels of justice we heard grinding away, or merely the wheels of the hypertrophied state apparatus masquerading as justice?

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Top Rated Comments   
This piece is pompous, self-flattering, preening and small. .

I love Democracy -- it's having to rub shoulders with less-than-attractive fellow citizens in carrying out mundance, inconvenient civic duties I can't stand.

By all means let's replace Son-of-Anarchy Guy and Overweight iPhone Lady with the sort of terrifying professional busybodies who sue elementary schools over religious holiday displays and rat out their neighbors to HOAs.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I've found that wearing a t-shirt from these guys

http://fija.org/

gets me free every time. it seems when you know that:

"The primary function of the independent juror is not, as many think, to dispense punishment to fellow citizens accused of breaking various laws, but rather to protect fellow citizens from tyrannical government" (excerpt from FIJA front page)

They immediately want nothing to do with you and send you on your way.

(at least, that was my experience...twice)

- a -
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You'd have been in no danger of being selected for jury service, Mr. Kimball. As soon as either lawyer in a case discovers that a prospective juror has any of the following:
1) an advanced education (or comparable assets of intellect or erudition);
2) experience or expertise in the matter of the controversy;
3) any perceptible leadership qualities;
...he is summarily discharged.

Just by brandishing that bio of Cicero, you would have been waved off before you could be impaneled.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (32)
All Comments   (32)
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Mr. Kimball: We need more people like you on juries, not less. In spite of the annoyances please do not try to avoid serving.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
...and thanks for mentioning the Cicero biography. Your recommendations are always worth paying attention to.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I've been called many times, but never yet made it past the screening for a jury. I conclude that if you look professional, intelligent, impatient and decisive, then you must be sheer poison as a juror. Being a military veteran also seems to be poison, also.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Whenever I get called in for jury duty in Collin County Texas I see a whole crowd trying to get disqualified ASAP. I don't usually read newspapers, but I bring one for jury selection in hopes that I'll look too informed. Some people bring books on capital punishment. Police officers used to show up in uniform. A couple times every defense team took the plea bargain for their case that day rather than face a very hostile jury. The court let us all go after about 2 hours.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This piece is pompous, self-flattering, preening and small. .

I love Democracy -- it's having to rub shoulders with less-than-attractive fellow citizens in carrying out mundance, inconvenient civic duties I can't stand.

By all means let's replace Son-of-Anarchy Guy and Overweight iPhone Lady with the sort of terrifying professional busybodies who sue elementary schools over religious holiday displays and rat out their neighbors to HOAs.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The worst part of jury duty is not your time wasted nor your unfortunate proximity to fat people. The worst part is that only a tiny percentage of criminal cases go before a jury. Mandatory minimum sentencing gives prosecutors a heavy hammer that forces defendants to take the plea rather than risk years or decades in prison. Mandatory minimums also benefit prosecutors because for every plea agreement accepted, that's a case the prosecutor never has to prove in court. THAT is the horror of the jury system and you don't even touch on it.

And ajaxoftherockies? Your FIJA.org tshirt might get you out of jury duty but it also reduces your chance to educate other jurors about their duty to decide if a law is fairly applied. If someone is in the tiny minority that has the guts to take their case before a jury, we should have the guts to be there for them.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"If someone is in the tiny minority that has the guts to take their case before a jury, we should have the guts to be there for them."

You are exactly right prairie wind. The number of innocent people manipulated into a plea agreement by unscrupulous prosecutors is not insignificant, and when, as you say some one has the guts to stand up to the "system" we should be there for our fellow citizens.

How often do we hear someone complaining about the government or the system, and then when they have an opportunity do something about it by serving on a jury they make excuses and throw away that chance.

I have had enough personal experience with being falsely prosecuted to have my eyes opened to the real world of criminal prosecutors.

Police and prosecutors have no interest in truth, or justice or the lives of the people the are supposed to serve. They have one concern and one concern only and that is to get as many convictions as possible. Guilt or innocence of the defendant means nothing to them. They are playing a game and playing only to win.

They use prosecutorial discretion to select which cases the will prosecute. Their only criteria is which case they believe will result in a conviction; they have no reservations about knowingly convicting an innocent individual if it will pad their resume as a crime fighter. As I said they're playing a game and they want to face the easiest pitching possible. They same standard applies when selecting a jury; they want one that is easy to manipulate.

A real person's future may be hanging in the balance. That's why people like Roger Kimball should try to be ON the jury not avoid it.

The trial by jury is the last vestige of government by the people that remains in America today. The government can second guess just about everything we do today but a jury's decision is final.

Jurors have a chance have not to decide if the law is being fairly applied but, regardless of jury instructions by any judge they also have the right, no, obligation of jury nullification, that is to acquit based on the belief that the law in question is unjust. I know jury nullification is not popular these days but was once considered a legitimate role of the jury.

For example how many would return a runaway slave legally captured, and required to be returned to his "rightful" owner under runaway slave laws?

The chance to be on a jury is the opportunity to participate in America as it was meant to be.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
At least in Texas, an employee of the Legislature or one of its agencies simply needs to invoke that status and through the magic of separation of powers the jury duty call (at the state level) goes away magically.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
At least in Texas, an employee of the Legislature or one of its agencies simply needs to invoke that status and through the magic of separation of powers the jury duty call (at the state level) goes away magically.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
We believe in the "wisdom of crowds." That means we respect feedback mechanisms in the market (prices), in politics (votes) and in the judiciary (juries).

Whatever the issues with jury duty, it would only be worse with unelected "professional deciders."
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I was on a jury back in the 1990's, for a DUI case. We found the defendant not guilty. After the verdict, the prosecutor called the jury "stupid" in the courtroom, was we were leaving. The judge slammed down his gavel, ordering that everyone else also leave the courtroom, except for the prosecutor. Not sure what the judge had to say to the prosecutor.

I've been called for jury duty several times since then. Our small jury document asks for any previous jury duty. During voie dire, whenever I tell the court that the prosecutor called us "stupid", both attorney's leap up and approach, and I am thanked for my time and dismissed from any further duty.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
*Get* back to me.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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