Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Judge Not

Most men make little use of their speech than to give evidence against their own understanding.

George Savile
I hope there are no judges reading this journal entry. If so be patient with my rant and consider yourself exempt from blame, (if you are).

While living in New York I frequently served on jury duty and it was, almost without exception, an unpleasant and insulting experience. One could hardly get through the door before the trouble started. When you showed up to answer the call the people who ran the jury room were dedicatedly rude and insulting. "Shut up." "Sit down," "Get away from the door." "Put your hand down." Some bitch was always barking orders at people who thought they were coming to fulfill their civic duty and would be appreciated for it therefore. No, the juror was to be treated like a criminl or a brand new recruit at boot camp.

For that reason and a few others the average New Yorker was finding very imaginative ways to stay out of jury duty. As a result it was difficult to find an acceptable jury of intelligent people. So the state legislature passed a law allowing lawyers and judges to be called up to serve. And, lo and behold, the first time a judge showed up without his robe, to be a juror and received that sort of treatment, heads rolled right down the polished marble hallways of the courthouse and there were some changes made. It never became altogether civilized but the edges were gone.

Now once inside the court room a whole other set of absurd experiences awaited us. All of the cases I served on were in criminal court and they were all low level drug cases, hardly worth anyone's time or trouble, but I guess they kept people employed.

I sat on four cases and two of them were ridiculous charges and in both cases we, the jury, found them not guilty. I wondered how those cases ever got to trial since the offense was so minimal and unthreatening to anyone's liberty or close to breaking any recognizable law or ethical principle.

In one of the others, when we were being instructed by the attorneys and when the witnesses were being questioned, the judge was paying no attention but was typing away at her computer. During a recess the two lawyers got together and issued a censure to the judge asking her to pay attention to the proceedings, where upon she shut off the computer and started writing in her note book. She would occasionally interrupt to ask a question which had nothing to do with the case. As a result, a mistrial was finally declared and we all went home.

In the other case the judge fancied himself a great entertainer. He had to open the trial by giving us a lecture on the American judicial system and what an honor it was for us to be a part of it. He went over and held the American flag in front of him and waved it at us (I thought for a moment he was going to do a dance). He instructed us to be fair and unbiased in our deliberations and to start out with a clear understanding that the accused was innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable shadow of a doubt, then he defined what a shadow of a doubt meant and he proclaimed a few other things about fairness and justice that I forgot about. Everyone in that jury had been through this many times before and some of the judges were better entertainers than this fellow was.

Then when the trial began he was relentlessly unfair to the attorneys. It soon became clear to any of us on the jury who had been through trial proceedings before that this msn didn't know what he was doing. He must have gotten his job through some questionable means because he was unprepared to preside over a criminal trial or any other trial. He would interrupt the attorneys when they were questioning a witness and say they couldn't ask some question even though it was just his opinion, not a rule. I watched the two attorneys getting more and more frustrated as the day went by, looking at each other with dismay. They were both young. I think they were probably fresh out of law school and never before had to deal with a moron on the bench. Sure enough, when we showed up for the second day, the judge was gone and the trial had been adjourned for a few weeks, which meant a new jury, so again we all went home.

I've know quite a few lawyers and have seen some judges in action. The best ones sit, keep their mouths shut and pay attention. The American judicial system is flawed, but it's probably the best one in the world and those who are on trial deserve to have a judge who isn't a blabber mouth or who's writing the great American novel while the trial is going on. And jurors have the right to be treated with respect as the conscientious citizens they are.

DB - The Vagabond

(This is not a contest.)

At what event of the past do you wish you could be present? Why?

5 responses so far.

Thank you.


That corgi :) said...

you have had a variety of experiences serving on juries, DB. I've never had the honor of serving but have been called a few times for jury duty; got out of it when the kids were younger and had no one to watch them, now I would gladly do it but we have the call in system where they have you call in for 5 days to see if they need you or not. I've called, they haven't needed me

I think I would make a terrible juror though. not sure how objective I could be for either side; don't particularly care for police, I probably would favor the criminal and that wouldn't be good

but I do agree with you; jurors are there to do a civic duty; they should be not treated as herded cattle but definitely with a touch of respect


pacifica62 said...

I thought that many cases were not tried by a judge or a jury. Too many times it is all shady back room dealings and plea bargains between the attorneys. The victim and/or his family is never consulted and it could be over before it even begins.

Gerry said...

Wow, this entry made me think. I have always suspected that some judges are not too admirable, but to read this by a man who has had considerable experience serving on juries was a little daunting. I am glad you think our justice system is still good despite what you experienced. I was having severe chronic fatigue bouts during times I was called, so could not serve. One old lady was a disaster all by herself on a jury when our governor was being tried, so I think Arizona courts have tried to stay away from old ladies ever since. She was mad, but could not be persuaded to leave.

Arlene (AJ) said...

Wow it's bad enough when the jurors are paying attention but to have judges doing the things you mentioned is unbelieveable...but that seems to be the way things are today. I'd like to think I'd be fair and listen without prejudice if on the jury, but know I'd never want to sit in on a DUI trial that injured or took someone's life, I'd have to asked to be excused, would bring back to many sad moments losing my Sis and young nephew because of a drunk driver.

Arlene (AJ) said...

Meant when Jurors aren't paying attention.

Liz said...

Why exclude any judge when surely they should be the first to hear.

No one is exempt from the truth.

Just Bill said...

Dana.could you please increase the size of your font. Some of us elderly have s sight problem,

With respect to your court/jury experience I can only say I have been called six times in my life and served on three cases.
Jurors were treated with respect and addressed my the chief judge about trials. Heard it 3 times and still thought it was appropriate sinse there a number of first-timers.
Two were minor but the third trial was a murder case. All the judges and lawyers I observed were top notch and left little to be desired.

Like you I agree that we have a good system but of course it does depend on individuals who may be lacking.
Hard to believe that you and had such widle varing experience. I am grateful that if I go to trial I will be judged in my county and not New York.

so us eldely

Big Mark 243 said...

I have never had the experience of jury duty, but I have heard of tales of Judges and how they twist their instructions to the jury. Not to mention how demeaning the experience can be for the jurors.

While the experience needn't be entertaining, you would think that jurors would be treated civilily, considering. As to the odditis of the Judges... sometimes, too much schooling, with authority and a small mind can lead to a mess!

Kraxpelax said...



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