Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Jury Duty

As a crime fiction writer and publisher, I probably should be ecstatic that this week is my chance to serve on a trial jury. I received my notice about a month ago, and have been wondering all along what might be in store.

Would it be something thrilling? Something boring? Something repellent and disgusting? Maybe it would be the case involved that fellow who was found beaten to death in the home not so far from my own! If so, would I need to recuse myself?

However, it hasn't yet turned out to be that thrilling. I'm writing this on Tuesday afternoon. Yesterday I spent much of the morning being "empanelled" at the court house, where we are separated into panels of fifteen or so, and those panels are used to build the pool of potential jurors. We went back in the afternoon, and were told by the judge that a flurry of guilty pleas late in the morning had made our presence unnecessary for the rest of the day, but that we needed to call in that night after 6:00 PM to discover what the next day would hold.

At 7:00 PM I called the recorded message, and a bland voice said that panels 4, 5, 6 and 7 should call back the next day after 10:30 AM to see what we should do. (I am part of panel 7.)

At 10:45 AM today I called, and was informed by the recorded voice that all panels of jurors were excused for the day, but that we should call back in after 6:00 PM today to see what the next day held. It's about 4:15 now, so I have yet to discover the future.

We are paid the munificent sum of $30 per day for this service... as long as we are not excused for the day. Thus far, I have earned $30 from the county for my service as a potential juror, and have yet to do anything except show up, sit in the jury box briefly, go home, and call in. No wages today, though.

We'll see how the rest of the week goes, although I must post this by late tomorrow night. More information to follow!

Later... Wednesday afternoon.

At about 6:45 last night (Tuesday night) I called the phone and got the recorded message to show up for jury duty this morning at 9:00 AM. I did so, and at about 9:15 the judge entered the courtroom and announced the case they would be trying. The case involved terroristic threats and actions, as well as harassing telephone calls. "Hmmm!" I thought, "Could be intriguing!" The defendant was called in, and my jaw (figuratively) dropped. The defendant was the plumber who did such a lousy, terrible, incompetent job on our new house, one that was fraught with errors and that is still going to cost a few thousand more dollars to get corrected. I've seen sharper billiard balls than this guy, and my jaw received another exercise in obeying gravity when it was announced that he was going to act as his own trial counsel.

They called fifteen people from the jury pool and allowed the prosecuting attorney to choose from among them. The plumber seemed to go sort of hog-wild with turning down jurors, and even the judge gave him an incredulous look when he had turned down seven of the fifteen jurors. They called in the second panel and he refused two more. Four were then excused by virtue of not being needed, and the trial began. I did not end up being one of the jurors, and I guess it's a good thing because I would definitely have been prejudiced against the defendant.

There is an old chestnut that goes something like this: "Any attorney who defends himself in court, has a fool for a client." Well, I have news for you: it goes double when it's a plumber who is acting as an attorney and defending himself.

I won't go into all the screw-ups the plumber made in his defense procedure, but here are a few salient points:
  • He never addressed the judge as "Sir" or "Your honor," but always answered with "OK, OK, OK..."
  • He repeatedly (even after more than fifteen reprimands by the judge) made statements to the witnesses rather than asking them questions
  • He got into an argument with one witness and had to be called down by the judge
  • He repeatedly addressed the jury instead of the witness when he was examining a witness
  • He repeatedly offered to have a polygraph run on himself, both while testifying and while examining witnesses, even though polygraph results are not admissible in this court
  • His primary witness was late arriving for the trial, so he kept trying to stall the trial process by repeating himself. At one point he asked to be allowed to testify in his own defense, said the same things over and over, and was reprimanded by the judge for so doing
How do I know all this? Because even though I was not part of the jury, I found the whole concept of this... this... *sigh* OK, this PERSON trying to defend himself in court, to be highly interesting. It was instructional. (All right, fine... it was schadenfreude! There, happy now??)

I saw how patient a judge can be, even when confronted with a stubborn and obviously clueless individual trying to act as his own lawyer. I saw how humor can be injected into a real-world trial when the prosecuting attorney, in his summation, called the whole situation that initiated the charges a "sideshow" and the judge only smiled.

But! I haven't seen the final act. I have no idea how the trial jury has decided. They went out to deliberate, and I left. I considered hanging around, but I had important things to do. Besides, it could be delayed. After all, someone in the jury might think that the complainant lied about being threatened, and that the policeman who handled the complaint might have lied about the plumber also threatening him with grievous bodily harm and death, too. I mean... it's possible, right? Right??


By the way, there MUST be a great story for one of the authors in this blog, somewhere in all this mess. If you want more sordid details, ask me. I have no compunctions about telling anything except the names of the persons involved. That might get me into trouble.

Late addition: I called the recording tonight and discovered that I don't have to go in for possible jury duty tomorrow. But, I'll try to find out the final verdict and leave it here in a comment. That is, if anyone really cares.


L. Diane Wolfe said...

What a hoot to see your plumber!

That was my one and only experience - I sat in one morning but was never selected. It was really boring, too.

Mark Troy said...

I hope justice is served and the guy gets what's coming to him. But, even if he manages to get away with this one, it doesn't sound like he's got much of a future.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Mark. you want to know the really sad part of this as regards his career? He has been working under his father's plumbing and electrical license for about 30 years. His dad retired some time ago. This guy has never passed the licensing exams, but he still continues to work illegally under his father's license. I had no idea that this was true when I hired him to do our plumbing work.

What a zoo THAT was!

But if he avoids jail for this offense, he'll probably go back to doing shoddy work for people. I wouldn't trust him to change a faucet washer for me now.

Maybe I could get back at him figuratively by writing him into a story and having a power plumber's snake impale him... or have him get accidentally run over by a Ditch Witch... or maybe hook up some 240 VAC lines incorrectly and... well, you get the idea.