Monday, October 18, 2010

Thank Goodness - Jury Duty is Over!!

On Friday October 15th at 2:30 PM my 5 week ordeal with jury duty ended. We announced our verdict to the court. I will be brief and somewhat vague when I describe the case. You never know some “yo-yo” with nothing to do may do a Google search and find this. Even though this case is now public record I would like to protect the privacy of the parties involved. I am sure it was more difficult for them than it was for the jurors.



There was an assault of one man by two others. One man sustained permanent injuries and was suing. The three participants and three witnesses testified before the court. In addition a medical witness who treated the plaintiff reported on the extent of the injuries. It was a shame that a fight had to happen among three adults over a minor issue.


The jury ruled in favor of the defendants believing that they acted in self-defense. The plaintiff could not collect damages.


Here are my comments that will not appear in Bruce’s Journal after today. I desperately want closure to this ordeal.


For 5 full weeks I did not know whether I report to work or to the court each day. In my previous 5 terms of jury duty I served no more that 7 consecutive work days and was completed. Over 5 weeks I served for 13 days while I reported to work the others. I cleared my calendar for the weeks of September 13 and 20 figuring it would be over by then. I had to cancel several business appointments over the past 3 weeks.



The major problem was caused by the backlog of civil cases in September. In civil court a jury is selected by the attorneys who must wait for an available judge to start the trial. They 6 jurors and 2 alternatives were chosen on September 20 while the trial commenced on September 30. The first 4 jurors were selected on September 18 and suffered for 2 more days than I. What was most upsetting was that there were 3 days when we had to sit in the central jury room and wait when there was absolutely no chance that the case would begin. The judge, court officers, and attorneys apologized for this and were appreciative of or service, but I would like to make a suggestion to rectify this problem.



At the beginning of jury duty we had to phone in to determine if we were needed the next day. Would it be possible to phone in to determine when a civil case would commence? If there is anyone with political clout reading this, can they make this suggestion to the powers that be in state government? Think of all the money that is paid to idle jurors by their respective employers. I am sure there are some hourly or free-lance people who do not get paid during jury duty.



There needs to be modernization of some court procedures:



1. In this high tech era why is a court reporter needed? Why can’t the proceedings of a trial be recorded to a hard drive? Any questions or comments that must be stricken from the record can be easily deleted. The court reporter reminds me of the conductors on commuter railroads. They are all dinosaurs.

2. During the deliberation process, we were required to submit a written note to the judge if we had a question or needed to see evidence. Why can’t the jury foreman talk to judge in front of all parties?

3. I would also ask the attorneys to minimize asking witnesses questions that have nothing to do with determining liability. This would greatly speed up the trial.



Now I do not have to report for jury duty for at least 6 years. I do feel that all people should serve at least twice in their lifetime; once in a civil case and once in a criminal case. We do learn quite a bit about the criminal justice system by serving on a jury. I hope that people can do this with minimal inconvenience.



I will conclude by quoting a line from Bob Dylan’s song “George Jackson.” I don’t agree with Bob here, but I admire his conviction. I am taking this line completely out of context:



“Sometime I think this whole world is one big prison yard. Some of us are prisoners, the rest of us are guards.”



For the last 5 weeks I felt like a prisoner not being able to come and go as a please. Everyone else in the judicial process were the guards.



I thank my friends, family, and coworkers for being understanding during this difficult period.

3 comments:

Carl said...

It looks like the "yo-yo" found your blog and got it some good publicity in the Times this morning. I'm looking forward with mixed emotions to my first jury experience in NY Supreme Court in November. But, as you say, everyone should do this at least once in his lifetime. Thanks for for the warnings of what to expect. Carl Taeusch, Manhattan

Miles Morgan said...

Bruce. Thank you for sharing your ordeal with us. I'm an attorney and can totally understand your comments, in fact I'll print them out and use them as a way of showing my colleagues the error of their ways.

I don't think attorneys or judges realize just how annoyed jurors become when we appear to waste their (your) time. It's not that we're lazy and get to court late. Often, in trial, we get to court early and are ready to go, but the judge delays us because he or she has to deal with other cases that are getting ready for trial.

Then we get our turn and, of course, there's always something we have to discuss with the judge "Outside the presence of the jury." So you have to waste even more time while the judge decides whether you, the jury, gets to hear something that me or my opponent does, or does not want you to hear. We argue about it, the judge rules, and that takes time.

And, of course, you know that's what's going on, and of course, you want to know what that "something" is? After all, it must be pretty important or interesting if the judge and the lawyers are taking their time to discuss it, don't you think?

I know nothing about your case, other than it appears to be a neighbor dispute that ended up getting physical because the plaintiff probably has a short fuse.

Supposing the plaintiff's attorney wanted the jury to hear evidence that the defendant (the father) had once written a bad check? Or that he had been to prison for stealing a car 15 years ago? Great evidence to show he's a bad guy, kinda dirty him up a little.

Under the rules of evidence, after listening to both sides, the judge would probably (hopefully) rule that this evidence was irrelevant, unduly prejudicial and inadmissible. You and your fellow jurors don't get to hears about it.

Now, with that settled, the judge then tells the bailiff to bring in the jury. The lawyers and the judge all look like nothing's happened, and of course you all come in and the one question on your mind is "I wonder what it is that they do (or don't) want us to know?"

We've treated you like idiots who are too simple to appreciate the fact that in a case involving assault, you are smart enough to figure out that writing bad checks or stealing a car is irrelevant. But you don't know that. You might think it's another assault that was the issue. Or maybe something worse.

I suppose my point is that if we trust you to render a verdict in a case, and we trust you to 'follow the law' like the judge says, then why can't we trust you to be in the courtroom when the two sides argue about whether the bad check or the assault was relevant? If the judge rules it's irrelevant and orders you not to consider it, then surely we have to trust you to do that?

IMHO, all the stuff that happens "outside the presence of the jury" just builds mistrust and it's time to change the way we do things.

There's something else I'd love to be able to do. At some point it the trial, I'd like to be able to ask you how we're doing? Wouldn't that be great? You could tell us what we're doing right or wrong, and maybe we could react to that and adjust our presentations accordingly.

These are just my thoughts, if you care to give me yours, I would be interested. If not, I understand and offer you my thanks for your service.

Miles Morgan said...

Bruce. Thank you for sharing your ordeal with us. I'm an attorney and can totally understand your comments, in fact I'll print them out and use them as a way of showing my colleagues the error of their ways.

I don't think attorneys or judges realize just how annoyed jurors become when we appear to waste their (your) time. It's not that we're lazy and get to court late. Often, in trial, we get to court early and are ready to go, but the judge delays us because he or she has to deal with other cases that are getting ready for trial.

Then we get our turn and, of course, there's always something we have to discuss with the judge "Outside the presence of the jury." So you have to waste even more time while the judge decides whether you, the jury, gets to hear something that me or my opponent does, or does not want you to hear. We argue about it, the judge rules, and that takes time.

And, of course, you know that's what's going on, and of course, you want to know what that "something" is? After all, it must be pretty important or interesting if the judge and the lawyers are taking their time to discuss it, don't you think?

I know nothing about your case, other than it appears to be a neighbor dispute that ended up getting physical because the plaintiff probably has a short fuse.

Supposing the plaintiff's attorney wanted the jury to hear evidence that the defendant (the father) had once written a bad check? Or that he had been to prison for stealing a car 15 years ago? Great evidence to show he's a bad guy, kinda dirty him up a little.

Under the rules of evidence, after listening to both sides, the judge would probably (hopefully) rule that this evidence was irrelevant, unduly prejudicial and inadmissible. You and your fellow jurors don't get to hears about it.

Now, with that settled, the judge then tells the bailiff to bring in the jury. The lawyers and the judge all look like nothing's happened, and of course you all come in and the one question on your mind is "I wonder what it is that they do (or don't) want us to know?"

We've treated you like idiots who are too simple to appreciate the fact that in a case involving assault, you are smart enough to figure out that writing bad checks or stealing a car is irrelevant. But you don't know that. You might think it's another assault that was the issue. Or maybe something worse.

I suppose my point is that if we trust you to render a verdict in a case, and we trust you to 'follow the law' like the judge says, then why can't we trust you to be in the courtroom when the two sides argue about whether the bad check or the assault was relevant? If the judge rules it's irrelevant and orders you not to consider it, then surely we have to trust you to do that?

IMHO, all the stuff that happens "outside the presence of the jury" just builds mistrust and it's time to change the way we do things.

There's something else I'd love to be able to do. At some point it the trial, I'd like to be able to ask you how we're doing? Wouldn't that be great? You could tell us what we're doing right or wrong, and maybe we could react to that and adjust our presentations accordingly.

These are just my thoughts, if you care to give me yours, I would be interested. If not, I understand and offer you my thanks for your service.

 
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