Elie's Expositions

A bereaved father blogging for catharsis... and for distraction. Accordingly, you'll see a diverse set of topics and posts here, from the affecting to the analytical to the absurd. Something for everyone, but all, at the core, meeting a personal need.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Inactive Duty

My Jury Duty stint was rather uneventful. I didn't get picked for a trial, so most of the day consisted of waiting around in a not-large-enough room with about 300 other randomly selected people. I didn't even get to watch movies like Soccer Dad does when he serves Jury Duty in Baltimore. Their one TV was tuned to the same local station all day, so not being a fan of the talk shows or soaps, there wasn't much there for me. Luckily I had brought a stack of books.

I was brought upstairs to a courtroom once, along with a pool of about 40 other potential jurors. It was a criminal case involving "robbery and aggravated assault" (translation: the guy mugged and beat up someone). They picked 14 of us to sit in the jury box and spent almost an hour going through a set of thirty or so questions. Could you make an unbiased decision, how do you feel about the police, were you ever the victim of a similar crime, do you have prior knowledge of this case, do you know the defendant, do you know the witnesses or lawyers, etc. (Interestingly, they did not ask if we knew the victim, though presumably such acquaintance would be even more prejudicial that the others.) After the general questions, they asked each juror to make a personal statement that included what they and their spouse did for a living, the number/ages of their children, where we got our news, and anything else we wanted to share.

After this process, the two lawyers went through their peremptory challenges in which they are essentially allowed to dismiss jurors for no apparent reason at all. Between them they knocked out seven of the original fourteen, and then, along with six others, I got my turn to sit in the jury box. The judge then went through the same thirty questions all over again for the new seven candidates, and had us make our personal statements.

Soon my turn came, and I faced the dilemma that's become so painfully familiar: talk about Aaron or not? He was so much on my mind that day, and it didn't seem right to ignore him and say I had three children. Yet it felt so piteous and awkward to bring up the loss in front of all those strangers. And I didn't want to get rejected for the jury on that basis; "let's all feel sorry for the poor pathetic bereaved parent". But I was just as reluctant to hide or fudge the truth, especially in such a setting. So when the moment came, I did mention him briefly, and quickly moved on to my other information.

After the long process completed for our group, the attorneys proceeded to dismiss six out of us seven, including me, plus one of the seven they had originally accepted! So they had gained no ground whatsoever from our round of questioning. We went back downstairs wondering how many more repetitions it would take until they finally had an agreed set of jurors.

As the afternoon wore on, it occurred to me that under all its pomp and solemnity, the jury duty system is essentially a big, inefficient bureaucracy, not much different than any other government enterprise. Beneath the surface glamour, spending a day in the jury pool wasn't that much different than spending the day at motor vehicles. Rather underwhelming, but I guess most things are, once you get to know them.


At 1/24/07, 12:06 PM, Blogger Soccer Dad said...

Peremptory challenges are a game. I'm not exactly sure what goes on. Once on jury duty someone noticed that men wearing jackets and ties were certain to get booted.

Once I was seated in the jury box having survived a number of challenges. Then the defense attorney asked if he had any more challenges left. He was informed that he did, so then he bumped me. I figured that I was a poor choice, so I was surprised that the defense attorney waited so long.

At 1/24/07, 12:40 PM, Blogger Elie said...

I can think of at least three possible reasons I was rejected:

1) Wearing a yamulka; too religious / fanatic.

2) Wife a social worker; too liberal / bleeding heart.

3) Bereaved parent; too empathic to the victim (or the defendant).

Then again, since almost my entire group was rejected in toto, there may have been no rime or reason at all!

At 1/24/07, 12:58 PM, Blogger socialworker/frustrated mom said...

Whatever it was it is good you were rejected. You would have wanted to go on trial?

At 1/24/07, 3:53 PM, Blogger Elie said...

Believe it or not, I was kind of hoping I would get on that particular jury! It was a criminal case, and from what they shared with us it sounded like it would be interesting. The judge had also said the the trial was very unlikely to run more than two or three days (I guess they felt it was pretty open-and-shut) so no long-time inconvenience. And since I get paid time off from my work for jury duty, no lost income either way. So I was somewhat disappointed, though not really surprised, to be dismissed.

At 1/24/07, 4:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was once on a jury for a trial where these two nutty guys, one a slob, one a neatnik/nudnik, were trying to scalp tickets outside the box office...

At 1/24/07, 5:11 PM, Blogger Elie said...

I think I once read about that one - Miss Beth Olam, I assume? But when you assume, you make an ass out of you and me!

At 1/24/07, 6:02 PM, Blogger Tova said...

was Beth's maiden name "HaKisei?"
Thought that might be a fair assumption...(;

At 1/24/07, 6:04 PM, Blogger Elie said...

Actually the character's name really was "Beth Olam". According to my Odd Couple trivia book, she was named for a Jewish cemetary near the studio where the episode was filmed!

At 1/24/07, 7:05 PM, Blogger Tova said...

that's a riot!! BTW I was the anon at 4:48

At 1/26/07, 5:10 AM, Blogger trn said...

Given the circumstances would not have proved problematic for you, Elie, it would have been good to have had an ethical person like you on the jury.

I have read previously both on your site and on the site of another of the struggle over how to respond to the painful questions regarding the number of children and their ages.

How did you address it in this case? I would think the most straightforward way would be to say something like, "I have four children; Aaron [would be 20 but] is deceased, Ben is 17, Shalom is 15, and Shayna is 11." (My apologies if I have the ages wrong.)

It's still emotionally painful, but it is honest, neither disinclusive of nor calling special attention to the unfortunate situation.

I also tend to wonder how our ancestors in the shtetls handled this. I know that a baby dying when this was a common occurrence is not quite the same as a young adult dying in New Jersey of today, but it might be because of the difference in circumstances that they had more of an established convention for addressing this.

At 1/26/07, 10:15 AM, Blogger Elie said...

TRN: Thanks for the compliment!

I handled it pretty much as you suggested; mentioned Aaron and the loss, but didn't dwell on it. And since so many other jurors were dismissed in my "round", it probably wouldn't have made a difference either way.

You raise an interesting question on what losing children meant in previous eras, when infant mortality was much more common. For example, my paternal grandfather was one of eleven, but his mother actually had fifteen births; four died in infancy. It was probably somewhat expected in those days for a significant percentage of newborns not to survive; note that in halacha an infant is not considered viable until 30 days of age.

However I think even then, losing an older child was relatively rare and tragic.

At 1/28/07, 10:01 AM, Blogger Attila said...

Elie, I'm not a trial lawyer, but the whole voir dire thing seems to be faux science. When I was in private practice years ago, my firm represented a record company being sued by the members of Kiss, the rock group. You know, the guys who made you feel like tossing your cookies when you looked at them.

I was talking at the time to my friend's mother, who told me she had been rejected from a jury recently. The case turned out to be my firm's Kiss trial. She speculated that it was the Kiss lawyers who rejected her, because they figured she found them repulsive (which she did).

I told the story to my friend at the firm, who was assisting at the trial. He laughed, because it was the partner at my firm who rejected my friend's mother. His reasoning? She was a Jewish grandmother and might identify with the Kiss members.

Go figure.

At 1/29/07, 9:06 AM, Blogger socialworker/frustrated mom said...

Too bad then, I didn't get paid my full salary so I did not want to get on the case.


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