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Saturday, May 13, 2006

6 Angry Jurors?

So I was on jury duty last week, which was the excitement of my week, if not my month. I was actually thrilled about it because it was the first time ever I have been officially chosen to represent ‘The People’ on a jury. Wow, I am the ideal citizen, as just last week I had been working on a local election, voted, was a part of a small start-up business, and had just paid my taxes to the IRS! Wow, wouldn’t George Washington be proud.


I received a summons a couple of months ago and was told to report down to the courthouse in Old Town Alexandria. I was told that I might have to serve the whole week, so I made sure I would be okay from a work perspective. In reality that just meant I would have to work from 5pm – 3am, rather than from 7am – 1am. It is okay; I thought the time would be good to get into a new environment as I could think about new ideas for our business. I was expecting the worse since I had heard so many bad things about jury duty when living in Chicago.


It was cold and rainy on Monday morning and I was excited to get to work on a trial. I actually had a hard time sleeping, but in a good way. I remembered my dad had served on a jury about a year ago, and seemed to really like it. He was on the jury for a week or two and was able to spend the lunchtime going to the art museums in The Loop. It made me smile to think of my dad and how much he probably enjoyed the time and ability to serve.


I woke up and sent some emails. I then went and gave the kids ‘hugs and kisses’ as Dryver puts it. I drove down to the Old Town courthouse on King Street ready for the day. I had put on a sports coat and nice shirt and it was cold and damp outside. I was in my ‘Bankers Outfit’ according to Jennifer, but I was ready to go. I was a little disappointed that I was not selected to go to the Federal Court House in Alexandria, where they were trying Moussaoui or Ken Lay, but just as well, I need to start small.


I arrived early, around 7:30, and checked in with the jury coordinator. The jury room was really nice, with some classical music in the background. I was greeted with a booming ‘Good Morning!’ from the guy at the front desk in the jury room. I had packed some diet mountain dews and my pc and my blackberry. I figured I would have to sneak out once in awhile for a soda or to answer some emails, but the jury coordinator was really cool and said we could eat and drink and use our blackberries or computers as needed. I was actually impressed with how nice the courthouse was and how nice the jury waiting area was. It was comfortable seats and nice carpeting. The whole experience so far was pleasant. I was expecting really cold and dark, like the DMV, but it was the exact opposite. I was thinking, I wish you could do this more often.


Well, a couple of hours past, we watched a video on how to be a juror and how the process works, and the coordinator gave us a lot of details on what to expect over the next day or two. He said there was a criminal trial that day for a couple of misdemeanor counts. He did say cases can take more than a few days, but thought this one might be shorter as there were not too many witnesses. He had us each come up and sign a document, which allowed us each to get $30 in cash. Not only was I serving my country, but getting paid for it, what a great deal. I must say the guy that was running this jury management was really really good. I was so impressed with him and how much he seemed to enjoy his job. He spent the time to explain things to us, and answer questions. He played nice music and was very very pleasant, even learning each of our names. He also explained some of the things he was working on to make the process even better for the jurors and the city. He took the time to answer our questions, to help us if we needed something, he even gave us info on what the process was and what was going on. He was an advocate for the jury and you could tell he really took this job seriously and was looking out for us. This is the kind of guy you want working for you! I hope he goes far working for the Commonwealth; he is a really good guy.


Anyway, we finally were called into the courtroom.

There were about 15 or so of us. We sat in the jury box and the prosecution and defense each questioned us about what we did, if we were related to police, if we were attorneys, if we were convicted of a crime, if we felt we could not judge fairly, if we listened to Howard Stern (well not that question), if we could find someone guilty, etc… It took about an hour or so and each lawyer asked us a bunch of personal questions. They asked me what Adify was and what I did for a living. I started to give the prosecutor the elevator pitch, and realized about 10 seconds in I was giving her too much info, though she was nice about it and smiled. I think the old guy next to me was interested though, I wonder if he has any connections.


The questioning ended and we were then asked to wait in the jury box while both lawyers handed a piece of paper back and forth and were scratching out people’s names. This took about 20 minutes or so. I knew they were choosing to drop some of us, as they had to get the jury down to 7 people for a misdemeanor case in Virginia. Once they were done scratching, the clerk called off names from each list. These people stood-up and left the courtroom. They were done for the day. I started to think how great it would be to go home and get some work done. I would have a full day still. They kept calling names, but I was still sitting there. They called the woman next to me, the black guy, the old lady, and so on and so on. Finally there were 8 people left on the jury and they had one person left. I was excited that I might actually get to serve. The judge looked at us and said ‘Mr. Jones, thanks for your time.’ Wow, I had made it. I was in. Oh no, I have a ton of work to do, I hope this doesn’t last too long.


So the 10 or so other jurors that were not selected had left the courtroom. It was just me and six of my peers. In honesty, they really did not look like peers. There was a guy that was really old and liked to complain about the air being too cold, there was a lady that seemed to have just immigrated from the Ukraine, there was a guy that looked like he was just finishing his 8th year of college, there was an older guy with a suit from Sears, and a few others. It was clear this was a truly random mix of residents of Alexandria. I looked around and figured that I must represent the Beverley Hills with kids segment of the population. Time for the trial. Now, I don’t watch TV, but have in the past seen Law and Order, but my experience with a trial has been as an expert witness in a big Federal case in NYC in 2004 that had to do with internet sales of cigarettes. I will blog about this soon.


I was excited. I looked over at the guy that was up for trial and he looked like a good guy. He was clean and looked to me like a small businessman. He was wearing a nice suit and looked like he was troubled that he had ended up in this spot. He was of Arab decent, but that is cool with me, many of my friends are from Lebanon or Palestine. I felt a little bad for him because I hate to have anyone have this situation, what a terrible thing to have to go through. I was hoping he would be okay, regardless of what happened.


We were sitting there waiting for something to happen. I actually expected there to be a break and for us to be called back in a few hours. Well, the Judge said, let’s go. The prosecutor got up and started giving her pitch. She was a really cute young professional attorney. She had a great personality, and you could tell she took her job seriously and wanted to win the case from the first minute you saw her speak. I was sure the older guys would love her because she was really young, attractive and also so nice.


Well, she got up and started presenting. Well, she was on fire, in a good way. She wanted this guy to pay. She was going to win this case. She was treating this as the biggest case ever presented in the court. This was life or death for her and she was not going to lose. This was interesting to me since the case seemed like a small thing.


She really did a great job presenting the facts and the witnesses. The problem was, the case seemed silly to me. I was sitting there listening to her many witnesses, listening to her opening remarks and even some of the statements, and was amazed that my tax dollars were going to pay for such a silly case. It made no sense that this case had made it to a jury trial, let alone any trial.


Without getting into too much detail, the case was about a small business owner that was upset because another business had not done what they promised to do. They said they were going to perform a service, and they forgot, or maybe didn’t forget, depending on who you believed. It was a little confusing and it was hard to tell what the whole story was, there were parts missing, which I later understand that these pieces were missing on purpose.


Well, the small business owner got mad and yelled at the manager of the other business when he found out they had not done what they had said they would do. They both yelled at each other, and finally the small business owner then went over to the other store yell some more. Maybe he used bad language and maybe he said he would kick his ass, but come-on, what has this world come to?


I was sitting there for a couple of hours listening to this case and the whole time, though listening to every word, I was thinking not guilty. I was thinking this is a waste of time. Because of my background and problem solving skills I did listen to everything and heard every word people were saying. I read the witnesses and really tried to understand the details of the case in and out. What do you expect; I had nothing better to do with my time as we were not allowed to bring our blackberries into the courtroom.


The prosecutor had some witnesses come up and she did a great job of guiding them. She was really good at working with one of the witnesses that was really a jerk. The manager of the other store that brought the charges really came across poorly and we all thought he might have an axe to grind. This brought some question to our minds. The prosecutor finished her case, and said she rested.


So the defense got up and said they rested also. No witnesses, the defendant didn’t testify, nothing. I thought it was strange, but figured they thought it was a lock to win so they did not need to present any more. There was a ton of information out there, and I started to realize why juries ask for details and more info a lot. The trial was over, and the Judge looked at us and gave us instructions. He said to follow the law. He said to hear what the people said. He said that we needed to decide together if the defendant was guilty or not-guilty.


So we all went back into the jury room. We asked if anyone wanted to be foreman. I thought it would be cool, but also wanted to make my case if anyone decided he was guilty, and thought that being foreman would not put me in a good position to do so. It had been a long day already, it was long after noon and we had not had lunch yet. It did seem we were almost done though. We decided to take a secret ballot vote. I was excited; it was going to be 7-0 for not guilty. There were two counts, I can’t remember the actual counts, but they were things like phone harassment and public disorderly conduct.


So we did a straw man vote, and guess what. The vote for the first count was 1 to 6 (guilty). I was the lone not-guilty vote. Wow, what to do. Now, I know as a sales person and with my problem solving skills I can change people’s minds, but not 6 people at once. Well, I thought let’s take a crack at it… I started my case to why this defendant was not guilty of phone harassment. After about 20 minutes of making my case, we did another vote and it was….

More to come in a week or two…

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