No Juror Left Behind

My afternoon at the courthouse was instructive and disturbing. I have concluded that none of you, dear patrons, have any more chance than I did of getting on a jury even if you don’t do what Esssie (over on the Texas Ring) described as “Auntie Mame Goes To Court!” I’m going to give you a lighthearted, colorful account of my contribution because a good time was had by all, thanks to the scintillating and charismatic Mrs. Traynham who isn’t awed by bald men in choir robes or distracted by several dog and pony shows of Vaudevillian slickness. However, we’re also going to go into several inferences I made which bode ill for justice.

I started my preparations to avoid being forced to arise several mornings at what is probably two a.m. in your minds with the solemnity of a matador robing himself in his traje de luces. Planning on the worst (since I detest shopping), I bought four shock and awe ensembles, and donned a suit of black and light-grabbing cream that shimmered very, very subtly whenever I moved. Around my neck I hung the enormous gold Our Lady of Guadalupe medallion my darling Charles gave me for Valentine’s Day this year as an unmistakable expression of my faith (which I showed the Judge at an opportune moment), following with enough citrines, gold, and diamonds for rings, earrings, and bracelets to make one think of some Sultan’s pampered favorite, including my signature half dozen bracelets on my left wrist. (Note: I am far from wealthy, but like the ancients I have always put funds into gold rather than “Fashion Fords” [clothing that is “in” this year and dated ever afterwards], useless electronics, and other “normal” American expenditures. What you spend on cable and cell ‘phones alone would buy something very nice every year. Vacations and new Hondas may be pleasant, but diamonds and gold are forever.)

When those hands with their long, square-tipped scarlet nails gesticulated, all eyes were drawn. (“Old” ladies wear oval nails; square ones look younger and more chic, besides being marvelous for scratching men’s backs and making your hands look more graceful. Pay attention! Life is a test and you need to know these things. They account for why Hillary at the same age–for all her vanity–could never compete with Sarah Palin.)

Strike One: “religious.” Strike Two: elitist scum. Sole remaining problems, worrying the judge just short of getting a fine for contempt, and showing the Prosecutor that I’m a maverick he shouldn’t take a chance on. No contest; neither man was ever in my league for genteel trouble-making.

Have you noticed how few people other than TV anchorwomen know how to put on makeup any more? Females run around either drab or painted like harlots and Tammy Faye Baker. There is a definite art to enhancing while looking lovely, not “made up,” and it, too involves light-reflecting substances. If you don’t know how, go to Ulta or Dillard’s and get free lessons. It took me 19 steps to look stunning but not “made up.” LOL…I am not beautiful, but I know how to dominate a stage.

By design, I stood out in the crowd, down to my handsome shoes displaying my recent pedicure and the eyecatching, complex designs painted on my big toenails. This isn’t where I started to go, but it is a good time to tell you how to command attention and respect when you are running for public office or trying to wow the head of a giant corporation or a promotion board.  In general wear a cobalt blue suit (ladies) or tie, which is far, far more attention-commanding than “power” red, but nobody had anything suitable. Have the sleeves, hems, and slacks tailored to be the correct length for you, that being the difference between looking good and being a manequin in a costly, ill-fitting outfit that does not become you. The old rule amongst old money is “If your leather is right, you’re right.” Unshined shoes or plastic handbags destroy the illusion quickly.

I struck quickly when the Mistress of Ceremonies announced there would be a fifteen minute delay and two dozen bored strangers who didn’t want to be there were sitting on uncomfortable benches lining the hall. I gathered half a dozen into conversation, then stood up, introduced myself to the crowd, and announced that I was volunteering to be foreman of the jury if I were selected, with an amusing but serious talk on the power of the jury and the importance of being aware of our powers including demanding additional information, experts, or training we felt we needed, and a quick explanation of the issue of jury nullification. I vowed that if I were elected Foreman we would be the best-informed jury possible. It wasn’t entirely a standing ovation, but the rest smiled, nodded, applauded, and agreed, not a dissenter in the bunch, and certainly nobody was ignoring me or contesting my claim. How odd that no one else had any inclination to “run” for that position…Laughter…life is a contest, and if there were prizes for picking up garbage I’d be out there immediately with my little pole with the 10d nail on the end. More to the point, this was my opportunity to inform everyone there on the duties and privileges of being a juror. A knowledgeable jury is far more likely to produce a just verdict.

Twenty-four had been summoned to choose a jury of six, no alternates. In theory the original list jurors are called forth with is entirely random, but consider the fact that all of us had filled out our forms on line. (The importance of this will become more evident.) I was number 20 out of 24, and the best way to avoid jury duty is to have a high number. (I was offended that I was not #24. Wherein did I err?!) So in we go, and the show began. The Jury Coordinator flattered, soothed, and apologized for taking up our spring break and a new multi-zillion dollar parking lot they had broken ground for this week which will necessitate those who drive having to park several blocks away for at least eighteen months–and it was raining. He yields to the judge, who delivers very smooth patter about what great citizens we are and how we are there to defend freedom. I declined to tell him the freedom I was concerned about was mine since the summons says very clearly that the fine for not showing up can be a thousand dollars and/or incarceration. He revealed that they had had to send out 500 summons to get 100 people to show up this week, and asked if there were any questions. Silly man! Every time you give me an opportunity to ask a question, I’ll come up with one. I wanted to know what they were going to do about the 400 who weren’t doing their “civic duty,” and he responded that it was too much trouble and expense to send officers out to arrest those who defied the order. “Oh! Does that mean that the defendant will be judged by the 20% dumb enough to show up for jury duty?” Laughing agreement. Chuckle. I will wager that all the jurors remember me and what I said far better than they do what the lawyers and the judge said.

Comes the Assistant District Attorney, more stale jokes and thanks, who leads us through a very prejudiced and inexact description of “assault with bodily harm.” (For the record, “assault” is the threat, and “battery” or some other charge is actually doing an injury.)  In time we are asked if there were any reason why we could not judge the defendant. One old lady (probably my age! She looked it, with stringy hair, no makeup, no jewelry, and a limp, sad pale blue cotton jersey top and slacks which did nothing for her 250+ pounds. I would prefer not to discuss my weight, which now exceeds that when pregnant with my third child, alas. She didn’t have to look as bad as she did, though.) said firmly that she was a Christian and couldn’t judge anyone. (She didn’t make the jury either.) I have my suspicions she just didn’t want to serve because she came up with three other reasons during a long afternoon for why she shouldn’t be a juror.) I struck elegantly at the defense and said that I take oaths very seriously and do not see how anyone could claim not to be prejudiced against a prisoner accused of such a crime. Gasps. Some admiring. I really don’t, either, depending upon the charge. The Prosecutor was pleased but couldn’t say so because we were all pretending the fellow is going to get a fair trial. ADA questions the first row apparently seriously but quite quickly, demanding to know whether we think all crimes should be punished, even though no one was injured. A precious little 1st Grade teacher (who made the jury) responds indignantly that if she didn’t make rules and enforce them her classroom would be chaos.

Break for Judgie to do another “turn,” and he lays himself open to being forced by me to describe what constitutes “a jury of one’s peers.” I was aghast–and said so–to learn that for purposes of the law my “peer” is deemed to be anyone of at least 18 years of age who can read and speak English passably, who is a resident of the County, and who has not been convicted of a felony and is not under indictment. Indignant snort. So I asked him what would happen if someone said, “Please increase that fine, Your Honour. The one you assessed does not begin to express my contempt for this court!” Widespread laughter, and Judge R responded confidingly that he had given up fining people for contempt of court because it entailed far too much paperwork! Honors even, probably.

Now it is time for the Defense Attorney to have at us. In an impromptu poll that at least six of us protested, we were ordered to say whether we believed it is more important that 99 guilty individuals go free rather than that one innocent man be punished. I was on the losing side, 21-3. He referred to someone I had–quite seriously–taken to be co-consul, given his excellent tailoring and relaxed air, as the defendant. I exclaimed, ingenuously…well, it could have been…that I had taken him for another lawyer. Stunned silence, followed by laughter when I said, “Well, you can’t judge by appearances! I was expecting the prisoner to be in orange coveralls and shackles so I could tell the bad guy from the lawyers!” The Defense Attorney recovered smoothly, and said, “Yes, we met in the elevator and you asked me if my client is guilty.” I responded demurely that mine had been an attorney joke, but he used my gift–which it was and was intended to be–to good effect. Mind, I wasn’t just playing games to evoke a peremptory challenge from one side or the other. BOTH thoughts are important, that we mustn’t judge on appearances alone (the defendant handled himself beautifully) and we must deal with ingrained prejudices. I continued that I was embarrassed that the defendant was in court and that realizing he was present had an inhibiting effect on the jurors. I didn’t say that we might well decide to toss him in the clink but that we didn’t want to hurt his feelings, but I’m pretty sure the rest understood. We Texans are a mannerly bunch, and while we might hang you, we won’t insult you if we can avoid it. Long discussion on how the charge did not involve battery on a female. (I give up. Bar brawl? Road rage? Homosexual encounter?)

Another performance by the visiting judge while the attorneys go decide who the jurors were to be and the rest of us discussed global warming and Darwin under Judgie’s direction to keep us occupied (wide-spread consensus against both.) Not to my surprise, the last chosen is #13, and all of the apparent troublemakers have been dispensed with. I rather think the school teacher will end up Foreman and give them far more guff than they expect. Never underestimate a grade school teacher!

The whole thing was a sham, orchestrated carefully. Both the ADA and the Def Atty told us in these words, “You talk, you walk! If you tell us what you believe and are thinking your chances of being put on the jury diminish greatly.” Can you believe that? They flat out said that no one who could reason or remember basic civics was required.

The “questioning” periods were rushed through very successfully. A lot of people can be hurried by “Do you agree with that? How about, you, you, and you?” The gentleman on my left after the second cut and I were quite in tune; we weren’t shy about commenting even though the attorneys were concentrating on the first 13–and that’s what it took. Six jurors, three peremptory challenges each by the lawyers, and one juror excused to care for his father who had just had major surgery. They will probably regret # 13, too…

Brazos County is 69% white, just short of 11% black, about 15% Hispanic, and 5% “other.” Based upon those figures, what would you expect the composition of a jury pool of 24 chosen from driver’s licenses to be? Well, duh, we could divide by four and get a pretty good idea: on the order of four Hispanics, two or three blacks, one Asian, and about sixteen whites. Right? Right. Wrong. OUR jury pool contained 23 whites and one attractive, well-groomed, middle-aged black female who exuded an air of competence and affluence. Such composition is quite possible; in statistical theory anything is possible, but few things of that sort are probable. It is not likely that a jury composed of all blacks would be chosen by the computer’s random numbers, for example.

The joker in this deck is that all of us had filled out our questionnaires on line. Let that sink in. Those in charge of issuing the summons had complete breakdowns by ethnicity and years of schooling. True, many Hispanics do not qualify on the language/reading issue…which makes me wonder suddenly if some summons are issued in Spanish. Mine was in English only, which certainly makes sense…right up to the point where you have a Hispanic defendant and a Judge and/or Jury Coordinator who wants a good sprinkling of the “proper” racial mix. Perhaps some of those who speak both languages decided cynically that they could play “No hablo English!” as an excuse for not having responded.

What seems far more likely to your cynical Whiskey Ambassador is that there is deliberate manipulation of the jury pool to decrease the likelihood of a defense attorney objecting on racial grounds. This was a white, upper middle class, college student, Anglo defendant, so give him an all white jury and save the “other race” prizes for the trials when a smart lawyer will appeal based upon jury composition. If I am correct–and, in all modesty, I’m an excellent analyst and I’ll be at least two weeks catching up on research and correspondence from the day and a half this mess caused me around shopping I wouldn’t have done otherwise and watching the Howdy Doody show–this smells seriously. The Statists work incessantly to divide us racially, but the rules can be changed to make their work easier.

One of the shocks was a lengthy explanation by the Jury Coordinator concerning why we were going to be offered our six dollar remuneration in the form of cash, refusal, or donating it to the charity of our choice or his. He claims it costs $7.21 to cut a check for $6.00 and follow it through being cashed, but thirty dollars if the check is not redeemed. This is outrageous, and more proof, if we needed it, that we have far too many bureaucrats doing make work at an average of 50% over what similar jobs in private industry pay.

I am not soothed, Shooters, by my experience with “justice,” American style. Yes, the judge sought me out before we left and shook (only) my hand, telling me with a twinkle that I am a menace. How very right you are, Your Honor. He and the Jury Coordinator were very interested to know that I write for you regularly, and, per their requests, I sent them a copy of “Involuntary Servitude.” My guess is that those will be posted prominently on bulletin boards for months to come, around a group in favor of hanging me at least in effigy and a bunch who think them wildly amusing.

The joke is on us, though, if they are manipulating jury selection to produce only docile juries which match the ethnicity of those involved and do not question “authority.” I may write Mr. Hamlin again and tell him that I would like to volunteer to be in future jury pools and that I will waive the age exemption upon my birthday, May eleventh. I doubt that he will accept.

What disturbed me most was how smoothly the process ran on oiled gears, passing over genuine concerns and issues as quickly as possible. If I hadn’t been there and lead the gentleman on my left astray, the State would have had everything its own way.

You know your crusader! Anything the government doesn’t want me to do, I want to do, whether that is plant peanuts or be on a jury! I don’t actually have to serve on a jury to be useful; all I have to do is be present to inculcate future jurors with the knowledge I have that they need. If you are called, write me for additional hints on things to say that traditionally tend to get a juror excused, please, but use your time to tell fellow prospective jurors to ask questions and let them know that they have many powers no judge or DA is going to tell them of. One of my readers suggested I try to get on a Grand Jury, which I would love. In the classic phrase, a Grand Jury can indict a ham sandwich.

I would like to know if my experience is an anomaly. I doubt it.

Linda Brady Traynham
Whiskey & Gunpowder

March 19, 2010