Monday, July 24, 2006

Jury Duty

This was the third time in my life I was called for jury duty. I had got a reprieve in my thirties when I was on a police force (they don’t take police officers for juries). No such reprieve this time.

I was herded, along with about one hundred other lucky winners of the jury sweepstakes, into a large room with a large T.V. set. “Regis and Somebody” was on the set. I had with me in my suitcase (even though I was not going to Constantinople) a bottle of water and The Poetical Works of Walter Scott. I had got through the first canto of “Harold the Dauntless” before I had a chance to interact with one of my fellow inmates in the jury prison room. The woman sitting next to me was bored out of her mind, because she decided that any conversation, even one with me, was better than “Regis.”

“Are you reading that book for a class?” she asked me.

“No, I’m just reading it for my own enjoyment.”

“I’m curious: what kind of man reads the Poetical Works of Walter Scott?”

Here I must pause and say that only twice before in my life, out of hundreds of chances, have I thought of the proper line at the proper time. Once a woman from our parish pro-life group had asked me if I knew Lydia. I replied, “You mean the tattooed lady?”

On the second occasion I had made a car stop while working on the police force and given a man a ticket for an expired inspection sticker. An elderly woman sitting next to him, his mother I presume, starting cursing. “You aren’t going to give him a ticket, are you, you blankety-blank Dago!”

“Madame,” I replied, “Look at the signature on that ticket. You can see that I’m not a blankety-blank Dago, I’m a blankety-blank Nazi.”

Which brings me back to the jury room. My reply to the lady when she asked me what sort of man reads The Poetical Works of Walter Scott will be familiar to all devotees of The Quiet Man. I replied, “A better man, I think, than you know, Mary Kate Danaher.” Apparently the woman was not familiar with The Quiet Man however, for she ceased all further attempts at conversation after that.

Eventually I was called, along with forty other poor slobs, into the actual courtroom. We were informed by a tired and bored judge that if chosen, we would be presiding over a civil case which involved one plaintiff and three different defendants, each with their own lawyer. The judge gave us the typical blather about how ours was an imperfect system but the best system in the world. After which he gave us a mini-lecture on courtroom decorum. Then—and I’m not making this up—the court stenographer walked in wearing spiked heels and a black leather mini skirt. She was quite attractive, in a decadent French cabaret type way, but she really belonged in the small red light district a few blocks down from the courthouse. The judge seemed to like her though, because he chatted with her during breaks in the jury selection process. I’m not sure (I don’t read lips) but I think he was telling the young women about his wife’s inability to understand him.

The judge, having informed us that we would not be allowed out to go to the bathroom until the jury selection process was complete (he was afraid we wouldn’t come back) felt quite free himself to pop in and out of the courtroom. No doubt desiring to emphasize that he was a free man–“I can go in and I can go out”–and that we were not free men—we could come in but we could not go out.

I don’t believe in the jury system, but it is our system, and I was prepared to lose one or two days if selected. But when the judge casually mentioned that the trial would last two to three weeks, I inwardly vowed to make a concerted attempt to be stricken from the jury. Citing hardship by saying I did much of the homeschooling with my children would, I know, not wash in a district where the politicians and school officials would love to eradicate homeschooling parents from the face of the earth. Instead, when the lawyer for the plaintiff asked if any of the potential jurors was extremely prejudiced against people who sue for damages, I made my case as forcefully as possible. “It ties up police officers’ time doing paperwork for insurance companies. It increases insurance rates, etc.” I was called up to the judge’s bench and was stricken from the list of jurors. But I was told that I was to stay in the courtroom until the jury was selected and not to tell anyone that I had been stricken from the list lest they use the same excuse as I had to get off the jury.

I had seen, many times before, the ridiculous process of selecting a jury, but in this case, with four different parties and four lawyers, the process was one step beyond ridiculous. Each lawyer had a lackey, and when one lawyer found an acceptable juror, he sent his lackey over to the other lawyers to see if that juror was acceptable to the other lawyers. The other lawyers would then send their lackeys back with their answers, and on and on went the lawyers, and back and forth went the lackeys, and the green grass grows all around, all around, and the green grass grows all around.

There were some notable personages in that courtroom that day who should be mentioned.

The lawyer for the plaintiff. There are many fat men in the world. One cannot claim greatness simply because one is fat. But I think one can claim greatness if one has a somewhat normal physique and a belly that extends over one’s belt in proportions suggesting a pregnant elephant. Such a man was the lawyer for the plaintiff.

When I was a lad, my brother and I and some of the other neighborhood kids used to get on our bikes and pedal to a construction site where we watched, in awe, a construction worker with a belly like the plaintiff’s lawyer. Who is king? The construction worker, I believe, but possibly time has made me magnify his greatness beyond its due. The plaintiff’s lawyer certainly runs a close second to the legendary construction worker. When I asked the potential juror to my left if he thought the belly was the result of beer or burgers, he replied, “Both.”

The plaintiff’s lawyer also was notable for the most gaseous of the four lawyers’ addresses to the potential jurors. He stated that he came before us in “fear and trembling” (how Kierkegaardian!) because there had been so many frivolous lawsuits urged by shyster lawyers that he feared we might think he was the type of lawyer (Oh, no!) who pleaded frivolous lawsuits and asked for outrageous damages. He went on so long that one of the other lawyers had to ask the bailiff to go get the judge, who had disappeared to the back room, so he could object.

The Sha-Na-Na Iowa Farmer.
I am no fashion plate. In winter, spring, fall, and summer, I wear what is cheap and comfortable. Nevertheless, I must call the reader’s attention to a mid-fifty-ish man who was dressed in a pair of overalls and who sported a 1950’s greaser type haircut. I expected him to break out in a medley of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” and “Tell Laura I Love Her.” But this man was not outstanding simply because of his wardrobe. When the plaintiff’s lawyer asked if anybody knew a Dr. Parker who would be testifying for the plaintiff, the Sha-Na-Na Farmer replied, “I knew a Parker down in North Carolina once. He wasn’t a doctor though; he was a salesman. Boy, he was a funny guy. He used to…” On two other occasions he started regaling the court with stream-of-consciousness reminisces that had not earthly connection to the case for which he was a potential juror. When the jury selection was complete, this man was chosen!

There is an old adage that if you are guilty, choose a jury, and if you are innocent, pick a judge. This man was proof of that adage. I have no doubt that each of the four lawyers thought he could make the Sha-Na-Na Farmer do his will.

The Curser. The potential juror on my right was a man in his early sixties who made it clear that he didn’t want to be on the jury. But unfortunately he only made it clear to me. He kept cursing everybody and everything in a voice that was only audible to me. I shared his feelings, but I was growing heartily sick of listening to him. And I would have told him so if not for fear that he was the type of person to go home, load up the shotgun, and come back blazing away. This old codger was also picked. I can picture him in the jury room with the Sha-Na-Na Farmer.

Sha-Na-Na Farmer: “That reminds me of a story about a pet pig I used to own…”

The Curser: (Leaping across the table and putting his hands around the Sha-Na-Na Farmer’s neck) “I’ll kill you, I’ll kill you, I’ll kill you!”

The Woman Who Made a Friend. Sitting in back of me were two middle-aged ladies. At every break in the proceedings, they chatted away. At one of the breaks, one lady said, “I’m so glad I got picked for jury duty because I feel like I’ve made a new and dear friend.” It was then that I wished I had packed, in my suitcase, a barf bag.

The Man Who Thought He Was Back in the Army. If you are not picked for the jury, you do not get to go home. You are sent back to the room with the T.V. set (the soaps were now on) and are forced to sit there in case you are needed for another trial. Fortunately a plea was copped in the only remaining case that day, and we did get to go home. But we were forced to sweat it out, waiting to hear about our reprieves for an hour and a half.

During that time, a man, who had never been called out of the jury pool, stated, “I feel like I’m back in the Army. They order you to wait somewhere without telling you what you’re waiting for or when you’re likely to know what you’re waiting for.” I think a prison analogy would have been even more apt, but I appreciated the man’s sentiments.

Now the party line, which the judge articulated that day, is that all the law’s delay and the lawyers’ high jinks are a necessary part of the best system of justice in the world. But this is not the case. As Judge William J. Cornelius points out in his book, Swift And Sure, we have one of the worst systems of justice in the world. The other countries of Europe are following our path, but no other country has gone farther down the slope of Humpty Dumpty logic and courtroom nominalism as the U.S. has.

And the reason for this is that our country started with less of a European tradition to eradicate. Incarnational Europe was based on reality; hence justice, though imperfect, was intended to go hand in hand with truth. In America, Enlightenment unreality, which had its source in the Thomistic deification of reason, has had more of a free hand than in Europe, although Europe is certainly under the same Enlightenment curse as the U.S. And even in the U.S., the Christian culture, the culture of the third dumb brothers, did not go out without a fight. But when that culture was destroyed, the juggernaut of Luciferian Enlightenment could proceed unfettered. Stark Young wrote of the new, unhallowed world that the defeat of the third dumb brothers had ushered in:

As this new guest went on talking about tariffs, industrial progress, and the development of enterprises, Hugh was surprised to find that the state under which such men as Mr. Mack saw society was actually a state of war. Competition without social principles. This would lead to a legalistic attitude, law as the letter, the strategic game; and this meant the debasement of the social sense. It meant secretiveness. Not lies, but a system of moving secretly, which ends in being only deceit and suspicion. Hiding the hen-nests, the prudence of white trash.

The chaos in our courts is not unconnected to the chaos in the Church. There has been a derailing. When religion becomes a legalistic game with no respect for the truth, our court system, which has its roots in the religious tradition whose founder said, “The Truth shall set you free,” will reflect the same filthy disrespect for the truth that the Church does.

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