Saturday, February 19, 2011

Jury Duty, part three

(If you missed part one and part two, click the links.)

I was actually looking forward to the second day of the trial, namely because I wanted to visit Disney Hall's "hidden park" at lunch. But before I could, I had to endure another morning of Mr. Hart eliciting inane testimony like an armless man steering a laden tugboat.

The plaintiff's absent witness from yesterday showed up for day two of the fun. It was her chiropractor, another Korean woman who was good at offering evasive, meandering answers. It took over an hour for Mr. Hart to get her to tell us that in her medical opinion, the plaintiff was in 7,000 different kinds of pain when she moved her arm, but thanks to her expert application of the chiropractic sciences, the woman was much better now.

A word about the defense counsel. This guy, I liked. He clearly had his shit together: kept his interrogations quick, made his points, never stuck for a question or an answer. And maybe this is all part of Litigation 101, but he kept making faces and inflections that clarified his positions. His unsubtle interrogation of the chiropractor, for instance, implied that since she provided services on a lien basis (i.e., the plaintiff hadn't paid a cent for any of her fifty-one visits), she'd padded the bill so as to collect a fatter cut of the inevitable judgment. "Twenty dollars for applying an ice pack?" followed by a look at the jury with his Whoopi Goldberg face: eyebrows raised, noticeable frown, chin dropped in disapproval. It made me want to be a lawyer. A little. Barely. For a nanosecond.

After a brief confab with the judge, Mr. Hart borrowed a witness from the defense. The witness was the defense: the restaurant manager, a nice Korean man who, after about an hour of testimony, barely told us a goddamn thing that we didn't already know.

At about 11:00 a.m., we were asked to excuse ourselves into the jury room again. By now, some of us, chiefly me, were having a hard time hiding our boredom with the whole thing. Since we weren't allowed to talk about the case, and since we'd already exchanged notes about the morning commute, we were stuck for topics. This may have been the time (we were sent into our chamber so many times that they've since blurred together) when I talked to a juror from Winnipeg. She said it gets so cold there that people have to use block heaters, these special appliances designed to keep car engine blocks warm enough so cars can be started the next morning. Or maybe so engine blocks don't contract to the point of cracking. Either way, it was like real-life science fiction to a boy from Los Angeles.

We moped back in a few minutes later, whereupon the judge began to explain to us a court procedure called a "directed verdict."

I knew what that meant.

As soon as I heard the words, I restrained myself from doing a little fist pump.

A directed verdict is something the judge issues instead of letting a jury decide a case, essentially because the case is so one-sided that no jury with its head out of its own ass could possibly see things any other way. It's like the ten-run rule in little league, where one team is slaughtering the other one so badly that the ump calls it. In this case, the defense was winning by a score of about 29 to zero, because the plaintiff had proven essentially nothing -- at least, nothing the defendant could be held liable for. Judgment for the defendant. The end.

We were thanked for our service and we left. I was so grateful for the no-nonsense way the judge had conducted the whole trial that I decided to send him a thank-you card as soon as I got home. (And I'm gonna. Soon.)

In the jury room as we gathered our things, I forgot to conduct a mini-survey about how we would have ruled if given the chance. But based on the chatter, we did not appear to have our heads up our asses.

In the hallway, Mr. Hart and the defense attorney stood there to soak up whatever feedback they could get from us. I didn't hear much of it because I was too intent on getting some satisfaction out of this whole farce. I'd been harboring the determination to let Mr. Hart know to his face what a clown I thought he was and how this cost me wages and was a waste of taxpayers' dollars and maybe even that he should take up a new line of work.

But I had only remnants of my original outrage. All I said to him was, "No one's happy this woman's injured. But she didn't look where she was going, period. It's a simple case of common sense. I'm sorry, but you had nothing." He stood there, taking it all graciously enough. Even his client stood there with a polite grin on her face. I don't think she knew she'd just lost. Mr. Hart was so nice about it all that I'm not sure he knew he'd just lost. 

In an instant, I no longer cared about exploring downtown. I didn't even care enough to ask if the plaintiff was going to be liable for the defendant's legal bills. I wanted to get back to my life. I stomped out of the building and down the block for the nearest subway car, which I ended up sharing with three other jurors. We exchanged variations on our amazement that Mr. Hart and his client somehow thought they had a chance. One noticed, sadly, that not only had Mr. Hart worn the same suit every day, but his coat was fraying. The conversation made me not want to be a lawyer anymore, not even a little, barely, for a nanosecond.

We seemed to run out of trial crap to talk about just as we were hitting our subway stops. We finally introduced ourselves -- and said our goodbyes.

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