Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury

One of my lifelong dreams has now been fulfilled!  Truly!

I’ve always wanted to serve on a jury, and usually I get an annual notice like clockwork, but I rarely have to miss work and report in to the courthouse.  Actually, I’ve reported twice, only to read the bulk of a book in a single sitting.  Once I made it as far as the courtroom for jury selection, but the defendant agreed to a last-minute plea bargain upon seeing his jury choices.  I think.  The other time, when I was called to the State of California Grand Jury, I got as far as the main room where I sat and painfully (yet, entertainingly) read a large portion of one book in 8 hours before the ‘extras’ were released to go home.  Like an airline ‘stand-by’, the government also calls too many people and wastes our time to make sure they are amply covered.

Finally!  After 30 years and a full day sitting in the courtroom watching wave after wave of randomly called jurors answer repetitive, grueling questions about their opinions and rear-end wreck experiences one by one by one by one by one by one by one by one by one by one by one by one (well, there are 12 jurors) and then releasing them one by one by…you get the gist.  Finally!  It was my turn to perform my civil duty for Marin County.  I think I only ended up as Juror 7 because it was 3pm and everybody was so damn tired by that point, including the lawyers. 

Still, once I sat in the juror’s box, I got excited.

Six days later…

And now I’m not sure I’d ever want to do this again!  What a horrible experience in a Judge Judy, waste my tax dollars kinda way!  This felt like a commercial:  ambulance chasing lawyer helping a multiple lawsuit filer sue yet another person for unseen and unproven reasons.  This was the system gone bad.  I wonder how many thousands of dollars were wasted, in judge’s salaries, bailiffs, court reporters, reimbursed jurors, loss of wages for some of the jurors.

I want to believe that people are telling the truth under oath.  I want to believe that both sides are decent people with a misunderstanding that couldn’t be settled amicably.

For me, the case was a painful hour after hour reconstruct of an accident 6 years ago.  Almost all the witnesses answered with, “I don’t remember,” even the plaintiff.   We endured listening to the same question innumerable times as the defendant’s lawyer asked the plaintiff about previous doctor records from two binders, objected every time.

Even the judge lost her patience.  If it weren’t for the sidebars, arguments in chambers and frequent 15 minute breaks, I think I’d have gone crazy with the repetitiveness of introducing a record, objection, stating that she only wanted to ‘refresh memories’; asked the question again with another objection overruled, and finally the witness says it does not refresh their memory.  Multiply that by, oh say 15 times.  OMG! 

After 6 days of mind-numbing testimonies and expert witnesses who contradicted each other, but threw vague references into the conversation, we deliberated.  We deliberated all of one and a half hours.  It took that long simply because I felt we had to have some discussion before coming to the same verdict we had alluded to after the first day by saying, ‘wow, what a joke’ or rolling our eyes at each other in the break room.  I was the only one who recognized the brevity of having the ability to affect another person’s future and said we should try harder to understand the man’s injuries and timeline. 

When we first voted, it was 11 to 1.  In a civil case, since only the majority of 9 must agree, it didn’t matter what I fought for.  The plaintiff wanted about $300-400K as damages for a fender bender, stating his roofing career had effectively ended with knee injuries and that he should be paid reduced income through retirement.  He is 48.

The jury awarded him $0.  Not future earnings, not reimbursements for knee replacement surgeries, not even the cost of replacing his bumper for $600 .

Justice was served.  Wasn’t it? 

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