Posts Tagged ‘jury duty’

In Case You Were Wondering….

Posted in General on June 10th, 2011 by Eugene Finerman – 8 Comments

Whatever happened to Eugene?  The more imaginative among you presumed that I had finally worked my way back to sixth century Constantinople and was the comedy hit at the Hippodrome.  (No one does Monophysite schtick like me.)  In fact, I was among the Byzantines, at least one of their modern manifestions:  the American judicial system.  I was on jury duty.

Now, in fairness, our judicial system is only Byzantine in its benumbing convolutions.  You may be asked to sift semantic nuances and calibrate technicalities; so you could end up feeling like a 1200 year old eunuch, too.  (And eunuchs would make excellent jurors, with their enforced disinterest.)  Otherwise, our system is shamelessly democratic: you can sue anyone for any reason.  For instance, if you are appalled by your medical bills, you are entitled to sue the families of General Burgoyne and Lord Cornwallis for losing the Revolutionary War, thus depriving our country of a national healthcare system.  Be warned, however, that under British libel laws, you can be sued for tactlessness–and the word “losing” does have a pejorative tone.

Yet, I wanted to be a juror.  First, who could resist the incentives of $17.20 a day and free lunch?  For a Chicago writer, that is good pay.  But I really wanted the adventure: to witness the dueling lawyers, to participate in the drama of the deliberations, to be the arbiter of justice.  Besides, I wanted to see, when under duress,  if I would become Henry Fonda or Ed Begley Sr.

Of course, the world does not always accommodate my wishes; otherwise, I would also have a few Pulitzers, too.  I have been summoned to jury duty several times but I never before survived the auditions.  In one past case, I was dismissed because I knew someone who had a traffic accident; I imagine that jury finally was composed of Amish 12 year-olds.  A prospective juror must meet the highly subjective criteria of vying lawyers;  if one side likes you, the other shouldn’t.  They object and you are excused.  In this particular case, one side particularly dreaded doctors, MBAs and other latent Republicans.

The judge’s personality will also determine the likelihood of you getting on the jury.  Some judges would not excuse a prospect even if he was scheduled for chemotherapy the next day:  “You know that you are going to die, so why not do something useful in the meantime.”  Their juries are quickly filled, although the judges often include alternates in the event of escapes and suicides.  But on this day, I faced a judge who decided not to force a bride to cancel her wedding.  She also excused a juror who faced impending bankruptcy as well as the person who denounced our  judicial system.  (Once that excuse proved effective, several other people realized they shared the very same sentiment; they had to be excused as well.  Of course, they now are also on the Homeland Security’s watchlist.)

Despite the attrition, 10 jurors somehow were selected.  Guess who was asked to be the 11th?  But I first had to answer a few questions.  It is customary in job interviews to pass oneself off as a soulless drone to satisfy the criteria of Human Resources.  That is just not my custom.  I remember telling a HR inquisitor that I wrote satires; the information actually left her speechless.  (And, yes, I never worked for that firm.)  So here is a partial transcript of the lawyers’ interrogation of this prospective juror.

Lawyer:  Are you related to or do you personally know any doctors?

Eugene:  It is a demographic inevitability.  For example, my father-in-law is a psychiatrist.

Lawyer:  Would that relationship influence your judgement in this case?

Eugene:  I have no problem ignoring him.

Lawyer:  As a writer, would you be bringing any literary perspective or predispositions to this case?

Eugene:  Well, I am not yet working on the script.  I did just write a magazine article on the Salem Witch Trials but I don’t think that there will be an overlap here.

Apparently, both the Plaintiff and the Defense found me equally entertaining.  So did the Court Reporter, who gave me the brightest smile.  Now there was an 11th juror and a class clown.  A twelfth juror soon completed the cast.  We formed an ecletic but very congenial group.  The jury certainly reflected the cosmopolitan character of Cook County:  every race, several accents (Tagalog and Polish), and an age span of three generations.  I was the only juror who could speak with ethnic certainty that our complimentary morning bagels were terrible.

As you likely have surmised, we were dealing with a medical malpractice case.  I will spare you the details primarily because I don’t want to be sued by the losing lawyer.  Besides, the case was rather technical;  the jurors were obliged to memorize a patient’s hypertension readings to determine his doctor’s diligence.  Each side presented “experts” to testify.  There is an interesting etiquette when introducing the expert.  Aside from reciting his deifying credentials, the expert must confess how much he is charging for his assistance.  The going rate seems to be $500 an hour, what the juror would make in a month.  The plaintiff’s lawyer will accuse the defendant’s experts of being greedy bastards; of course, the plaintiff’s experts are selfless saints even if they charge the same rate.  Then the defendant’s lawyers will make the same accusations against the plaintiff’s experts.  Remarkably, everyone kept a straight face.  I doubt that Yale or Juilliard produces better actors than our law schools do.

In fact, while taking notes of the evidence, I also found myself writing drama reviews of the lawyers and the witnesses.  Several times during the trial, lawyers would use the rhetorical gambit of forcing a witness to answer a simple yes or no to a complicated question.  The tactic is supposed to incriminate the witness; however, it really only incriminates the lawyer as a devious bully.  One of the $500 a hour witnesses had a real expertise in offending the jurors.  There is something unbearably smug about a man who repeatedly strokes his tie.  The jury would remember him, specifically as a punchline.

On the fifth day of the trial, the lawyers gave their closing summations.  The plaintiff’s lawyer asked us to award his client some $5 million in damages and compensation, including $1.5 million for the loss of a sex life.  Even if the plaintiffs had been Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, I wouldn’t appraise their sex life for that kind of money.  And these people were more on the esthetic level of Zasu Pitts and Sidney Greenstreet.  The jury retired to lunch and its deliberations.  The verdict took barely longer than the meal.

If you ever had any doubts about the jury system, our panel would reassure you of the efficiency and conscientiousness of your fellow citizens.  Everyone had taken their responsibilities quite seriously, keeping meticulous notes of the evidence and giving cogent summations of their findings.  Any questions were addressed and resolved amiably.  The conduct of the jurors was really quite inspiring; of course, that is also because they agreed with me.  (Sorry, but I can’t go an entire paragraph without a quip.)  What was our verdict?  Let’s just say that the plaintiff had a bad day.

The judge thanked the jury and dismissed us.  As we left the courtroom, the lawyers (both sides!) also formed their own reception line to thank us.  I told them that I was available if they ever needed an expert witness in a history or rhetoric case.  Furthermore, they already knew my rate:  $17.20 a day, free lunch and-most important–a captive audience.

And, yes, I would serve on a jury again.  I recommend it!

Juris Imprudence

Posted in General on September 16th, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – 8 Comments

Michael Rankin, a fellow relic from Jeopardy and welcome correspondent here, is now the object of my envy.  Mr. Rankin will be lending–or at least renting–his wisdom and sensitivity to the California judical system.  In other words, he has jury duty.  I have always wanted to serve on a jury.  Here in Cook County, a juror receives $17.20 a day which is a fortune for a freelance writer.

I have been called a number of times to jury duty, but I am always rejected.  I must be more of a threat to Western Civilization than I realized.  Am I really such a threat to life, limb and liberty?

Here is how I would judge the following cases…

Athens, 399 B.C.  Socrates is guilty; however, I wouldn’t have convicted him of corrupting youth.  Youth is inherently corrupt, and you can only imagine how spoiled the brats of Athens were.  However, teachers are supposed to impose some constraints on their little monsters.  Socrates abysmally failed.  The parents of Plato could forget about grandchildren.  And what did Alcibiades learn?  During the Peloponnesian War, he managed to betray Athens, Sparta and Persia;  he probably cheated the Chinese and the Mayans, too.  My verdict:  Socrates would have to refund everyone’s tuition.

Jerusalem, 29 A.D. Jesus is guilty of practicing medicine without a license.  I don’t care if he did cure lepers; he still needed malpractice insurance.  For instance, a cured leper now will keep his fingers but what if those fingers then become arthritic.  Jesus could be sued–and I’d be stuck on that jury as well.  My verdict:  ten shekels for court costs and a restraining order keeping Jesus thirty yards from the crippled, blind and dead.

Rouen, 1431.  Joan of Arc is guilty of something.  In France being a 18 year old virgin is tantamount to treason.  Furthermore, she obviously was not conversing with France’s favorite saints.  Given their heavenly omniscience, wouldn’t those saints have told Joan to forget about the English and start worrying about the Germans?  My verdict:  Joan can continue to wear men’s clothing but only if it is a straitjacket. 

Massachusetts, 1692:  Guilty, guilty, guilty.  The evidence of Satan is incontrovertible.  The afflicted speak in arcane gibberish, they mock and abuse the unpossessed, and they think themselves superior to God.  My verdict:  Harvard must be immediately closed.  (Oh, did you have a question about Salem?)

Paris, 1894.  Captain Dreyfus is guilty of gullibility.  Did he really think that those French aristocrats wouldn’t be Anti-Semitic?  Couldn’t he take a hint:  the other officers received epaulets and he got a “Kick Me” sign.  My verdict:  Twenty Franc fine for trespassing.

Dayton, Tennessee, 1925John Scopes is guilty of tactlessness.  When a person says he hasn’t evolved, he obviously hasn’t.  That person has every right to say that he was made in God’s image (although he actually would hate to look like an old Jew).  My verdict:  condemned not to have any of the memorable lines in “Inherit the Wind.”

Court is now adjourned.

Juror Prudence

Posted in General on March 19th, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

Ind. Ku Klux Klan leader gets out of jury duty


A high-ranking Ku Klux Klansman from Indiana has been excused from jury duty after saying he couldn’t be fair unless the defendant was white.

Railton Loy is the Imperial Wizard of the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, based in Osceola. The South Bend Tribune reports that Loy was excused from jury duty this week by St. Joseph Superior Court Judge Roland Chamblee Jr.

The newspaper reported that Loy said he planned to wear his KKK robes to court if ordered to appear, and said in a phone call to the court that he couldn’t be fair unless “the defendant was white.”

The Cook County Court reports that today’s 5000 prospective jurors have all asked to be excused because they are members of the Ku Klux Klan.  Accountant Jordan Weintraub announced his political allegiance in the courtroom of Judge Sidney Bresler.  Judge Bresler expressed his surprise since he and Weintraub belong to the same synagogue.  Weintraub explained that he also used his tallith as his Klan sheet. 

Among the other self-pronounced Klan members were Jorge Rivera, Father Eamon Kirkpatrick and Muhammed Jones.  The Court excused them all, but insisted that henceforth all unconscientious objectors  must bring proof of Klanhood: a membership card, a hood or a copy of “Gone With the Wind.”

In a related story, the Osceola, Indiana Chapter of the Ku Klux Klan has received  350,000 membership applications. 

In  what might be a related story Homer Bidslow of Travis Jaw, Texas asked to be excused from Texas jury duty because he is not a member of the Ku Klux Klan.