Monday, June 30, 2014

"Judging Strangers"

I love it when the system works.

Wait, I thought you were “The Complainy Guy.”

It’s coming. 

But first – as an unusual change of pace – the Good News.

I get a “Summons for Jury Service.”  (It’s like receiving a “Go Directly To Jail” card in in the mail.)  They are sending me to the Superior courthouse downtown, which is about twenty miles from my house.  There is also a Superior Court six blocks from where I live in Santa Monica.  But they are not sending me there.

There is a protocol, allowing you to apply for a courthouse “Transfer of Service.”  Which is what I want because – you probably don’t know Los Angeles, but it’s crazy down there.  It takes three freeway changes to get downtown, and when you get off the freeway, you run into “No Left Turn” streets where you want to turn left, followed alternately by “One Way Street” signs in the direction you do not want to go. 

“No Left Turn” – “One Way Street” – “No Left Turn” – “One Way Street.”  I am telling you, there have been times when it appeared that there was no way I could possibly get to where I wanted to go, and I just pulled the car over to the curb, and cried.  And then got out of the car, and I walked there.

My eye limitations recommend neither freeway driving nor driving at night.  (This is not me talking.  A former eye doctor of mine told me I shouldn’t.)   This gives me, I feel, legitimate justification for a “Transfer of Service” to a closer courthouse.  (And there is one.  I can virtually see it from this desk.)  So I apply for one.

I receive a letter back informing me that they cannot approve my application for a “Transfer of Service” without a confirming letter from my ophthalmologist.  I contact my ophthalmologist and he replies, through his secretary – “No letter.”

It occurs to me that my ophthalmologist might mistakenly assume that I am trying to get out of jury duty, to which the appropriate response would indeed be – “No letter.”  I decide to call back, to explain that all I am looking for is a letter that will make me eligible, not to get out of jury duty, but for a “Transfer of Service.”

As a result of this clarification, I receive the letter from my opthalmologist.  I resubmit my application for a “Transfer of Service”…

And I get it!

Thus proving two things.  One:  Sometimes the system works.  And Two:  When you chronicle an experience that goes happily as it should, you end up with an excruciatingly boring story.

Sorry for requiring you to read four hundred and thirty-nine words resulting in everything going as it should.  Fortunately, that’s just the setup.  It gets identifiably complainier from here on in.  Which should enliven things considerably.

Generally, people dislike jury duty because it disrupts their lives, and requires them participate in an activity they would unlikely volunteer to engage in. 

Let it herein be stipulated:  I have virtually no life whatsoever.  So there is little to nothing to disrupt.

Still, I am less than enthusiastic about Jury Duty. 


Primarily because I do not believe in the “Adversarial System” as a credible recipe for achieving justice.  The “Adversarial System” isn’t a “Search for Truth”; it’s an extraneous “skills competition.”  The opposing lawyers may just as well engage in a long-distance “spitting contest”, where whoever spits the farthest wins the case.

Somebody once said, “A trial is a procedure proving which side has the better lawyer.”  (A barely adequate paraphrasing of the actual quote.  You really deserve better, but I am too lazy to look it up.)

I am aware how highly impressionable I am.  And knowing this, I am certain that the more persuasive of the two attorneys will inevitably swing my support in their client’s direction, even if their client is evidentiarily guilty, or their arrest was a palpable mistake.  And I do not wish to be a part of that, “that” being the more than even chance of my making a egregiously wrong decision, sending an innocent person to prison, or releasing a guilty one onto the streets. 

I know I will succumb to style over substance, and that viscerally upsets me.  (Not that I won’t battle ferociously for my quite possibly erroneous position, because that is simply the way I am.  Which only makes things worse.  Or at least more a situation I’d prefer not to be required to participate in.)


The jury system may have worked once, in a more homogenous society where similar experience led to (at least the possibility of a) reasonable adjudication, but we no longer live in a homogenous society. 

The concept “Jury of Your Peers” makes virtually no sense anymore, unless by “peers” you mean any human being who breathes in and breathes out.  No house pets or vegetation allowed!

What do I know about corporate tax fraud?  What do I know about street gang protocol?  What do I know about child abuse?  (Beyond what I witnessed on SVU, and that may be strictly “show business.”)  What do I know about anything, except writing comedy for television in the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s?  (And a little bit of the 00’s.)

In the old days, when the majority of people lived in rural communities, the members of the jury knew the people involved, they knew the specific situation, they knew the circumstances surrounding the alleged criminal behavior.  Their collective experience provided a clearer understanding of the facts, resulting in a more reliable possibility of achieving justice.

Nowadays… okay, I’ll give you an example.

The closest I ever came to Jury Duty – and this was an amazing coincidence – involved a case I was already aware of because the plaintiff was the uncle of a acquaintance of mine, and that acquaintance had informed me about it ahead of time.  This association alone would have excluded me from jury service.  (I was actually excluded for other reasons.)

My point is that when knowing the participant, with its illuminating insights and understandings once increased the likelihood of a just and reasonable decision, now even a tangential association suggests the possibility of partiality, which will consequently get you eliminated from the jury.

And don’t get me started on “jury consultants.”  “Peremptory challenges”, devised originally to deliver a less potentially prejudiced jury panel – Think:  Twelve white jurors and a black murder defendant in the Deep South – that process little by little evolved into paid professionals snooping into the jury pool members’ backgrounds, searching for the tiniest indication that would provide their side with an edge.  Talk about the best intentions subverted for personal advantage.  (Which I just did.) 

Also, completing the picture although not necessarily tastefully, when I get really nervous, I have to go to the bathroom a lot.  I can imagine myself, with somebody’s destiny hanging in the balance, incessantly raising my hand, asking for one short recess after another.

If they allowed me to, I would request “Alternate Service” (if it wasn’t too disgusting.)  But that is not an available option.  My only hope is that they ultimately don’t need me, or that I inadvertently say something that will excuse me from Jury Duty.

Something like,

LAWYER:  “Do you believe in the Death Penalty?”

ME:  “Yes, but I believe it is administered unfairly.  I believe that all criminals should receive the Death Penalty.  It seems prejudicial to restrict it to just murderers.”
That should do it, don’t you think?

My final though hardly least troubling concern about Jury Duty is that while checking my “criminal background” as I sign in, they might chillingly go, “Oh, Mr. Pomerantz, as long as you’re down here, we would like to arrest you for something.”

In which case, I shall be henceforth blogging from prison. 

If my cellmate will share the computer. 

Without asking for anything in return.


PG said...

"One Angry Man"
Earl...I should think confessing that you were a comedy writer should do the trick!

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Good luck. I hope you get an interesting case.

And...have you ever thought of traveling by metro?