Saturday, February 21, 2009

Me, The Jury

In every one's life, there comes that day we all dread but must accept. I'm talking, of course, about the day you can no longer dodge jury duty. On the one hand, my civil duty meme says it's good to pitch in and play my part for society. On the other hand, my cynical gene says there's no way any prosecutor is going to put me on a jury, and every day I sit in district court is another day the lovely profits from this book I'm writing are postponed. On the third hand, my stay-out-of-jail meme says that the federal court system is a lot less tolerant of jury dodging than the state, so that pretty much seals the deal!

  • + It's a federal jury, raising the odds we'll be stickin' it to the man rather than trampling the downtrodden.
  • - O.J. is off the streets, so it's unlikely to be the trial of the century.
  • +The courthouse provides free internet access
  • -Have to get up at the butt-crack of dawn to catch a bus and be there by 8:00am.
  • +Serving will allow some hard-working employed person to continue to be productive.
  • -There are plenty of freshly-unemployed people who could do it so that I can continue to be productive.

Of course, anyone can get out of jury duty, using well-documented means, but my civil duty meme has won out and I'm resigned to going and making the best of it. In fact, given that $40/day represents a serious bump up in my income, my answer to the question "Is there any reason you cannot serve?" becomes "No, in fact, if there's any way I can serve on three or four juries at the same time, I would like to sign up for that!" Sure hope I don't have to pay income tax on this windfall.

Technically, of course, I shouldn't get seated on a jury. Once the prosecution sees I listen to NPR, oppose the death penalty, graduated college, suspect televised wrestling might have a predetermined outcome, question the existence of free will, and so on, s/he would have to be nuts to accept me. But it's a human, and therefore chaotic process, and each side has a limited number of get-out-of-seating-that-nutjob-free cards, so as Billy Joel says "Sooner or later it comes down to fate." and getting to sit for the whole 2-3 week trial cannot be ruled out. I might as well be the one. It's a matter of trust.

But probably what really keeps me from trying to dodge my duty is that I've been immersed in psychology for years now. The courtroom is jam packed with psychology. That is, of course, where Dr. Phil made his bucks, leading to his meeting Oprah and his opportunity to start making megabucks. If a defendant has enough money, there's going to be a psychologist on their side studying how to sway the jury.

Once upon a time, I was an expert witness in a Microsoft trial, and psychology was key to my testimony. I was there as a magazine editor to testify merely on some peripheral point about reverse engineering. But at some point during the preparation, it came to the attention of the attorney that there was a connection between a columnist of mine who happened to work for Microsoft, and the actual case. The attorney asked if he could ask about this, I said I would ask the Microsoftie, the Microsoftie said "please, please don't" so I relayed the negative back to the attorney. No big deal, he said, not that important anyway. Well and good, except just before I walked into the courtroom, the attorney said he wanted to walk me quickly through the questions he would ask, and for me to pretend I was on the stand and under oath. He stepped through the questions and then, suddenly interjected with "Is it true that [insert just the question we had previously agreed he wouldn't ask.]?". I stared back at him and, without missing a beat, said "No."

He was using psychology, the pressure of the situation, the idea that I was pretending to be under oath, to see if he could get what we had already agreed I would not offer on the stand. I saw exactly what he was doing and would not go along. Would I have actually gone ahead and lied under oath? Just as in poker, those were cards in my hand that the attorney would have to risk something to see. Since it was, after all, a minor point, he had the good sense not to ask a question whose answer he couldn't be certain of. It's got to be more fun sitting in the jury than sitting on the witness stand--you can snooze a little.

So if you're in U.S. District Court in Seattle during the 3 weeks starting March 23, stop by and see if I'm sitting in a jury somewhere. But please, no lighter salutes, it's just not safe with all that wood paneling

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