Friday, September 14, 2012

Justice, Human Style

Since Tuesday morning, I have been serving on a jury. With four other men and seven women, I have been hearing a civil case in state superior court. The judge tells us that the trial is likely to last another two days, with final arguments and deliberations on Wednesday. Please don’t ask me any more about it. If I tell you more, I’ll have to kill you.

The system of trial by jury stems from Magna Carta, according to the twenty-minute informational DVD played for the jury pool on Monday before the sixty of us filed into the oldest active courthouse in the nation, designed by Charles Bulfinch and opened for business in 1805. John Quincy Adams heard cases here as a young lawyer—but if I told you exactly where it was, I’d really have to kill you.

See this is the cool thing about the jury system, which you probably know if you’ve ever served on one. If you have a shred of humanity and a Glasgow Coma Score above 3, you take it very very seriously. Like a lot of civil cases, I imagine, ours has no clear good guy and bad guy. Ten of us jurors have to agree that the preponderance of evidence is on one side or the other, plaintiff or defendant. Then, if we find for the plaintiff, we have to award damages: one dollar, $1 million, $20 million, I don’t know. I hope the judge gives us guidelines.

Because one thing I feel even more than the seriousness of our responsibility, and that is how hard it’s going to be to be just. Right now, I have no idea whether we’ll even be able to muster ten votes for one side or the other, because the thing is, even in the jury room before each day’s session and during the fifteen-minute break we get mid-morning, we are not allowed to discuss the case among ourselves. And you can feel the temperature rising.

I am bursting to talk about the case with my fellow jurors. A jury is like the Camino de Santiago: when you’re on this journey with a stranger, he or she quickly becomes a friend, an ally, even if you don’t know his or her name. I know the name of just one fellow juror, and only because his daughter was sick this morning and he was five minutes late. So the court officer came into the jury room and went through the names of the five men until he came to the missing one. But if I told you his name, I’d need to kill you.

Real justice, from where I sit today, seems like something out of reach of human beings. When the jury pool first entered the courtroom Monday morning, the plaintiff and defendant were sitting there with their lawyers. Before we went through selection, the judge told us the broad details of the case, why the plaintiff was suing the defendant. Immediately, my mind created a scenario. Instantly, I “knew” who was right and who was wrong. Fortunately, when the judge asked questions that might disqualify us for prejudice, he did not ask, “Has anyone here already decided this case?” Because I had.

Since that day my opinion has swung from one side to the other, count ’em, one, two, three, four times. I can’t tell you which side seems strongest to me right now, and that would be useless information anyway. Because my mind is likely to change Tuesday morning when testimony resumes after a long weekend.

I have already written a post about the selection process and how I got picked. It’s the post on chapter 15 in The Lord, “Possibility and Impossibility,” which is scheduled to go live Wednesday morning, the day we twelve jurors will be charged with delivering a just verdict and, if the plaintiff wins, determining damages. So by the time you read that post, or anything more about this trial, I will be impervious to anything you might whisper in my ear. And you will be free to whisper.

Until then, though, mum’s the word, because, well, you know what would happen.


  1. Nice post, funny but deadly serious!By the way, are you aware of how difficult it is to publish a comment on your blog? I can't read those letters!

  2. I'm sorry, don't know what you mean by "those letters".


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