This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on January 8, 2007 1:55 PM. The previous post in this blog was Cancelled!. The next post in this blog is While I do my civic duty. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Monday, January 8, 2007

Jury duty

I put it off when my number first came up last fall, but today is the day when I am serving my community as a juror. Well, a prospective juror, anyway. I and another 150 or so of my fellow Multnomah County residents are hanging around in the jury room on the ground floor of the old courthouse, waiting to see if we'll get to sit in judgment in one of the courtrooms upstairs.

There have been three roll calls so far since 8:00 this morning, and my name hasn't been included. And so the sitting around continues. It's a huge room we're assembled in here -- around 20 rows of leather chairs, eight across or so, some tables and couches in the back, some carrels along the side for computer users. Some ratty books and magazines, and a flat-screen TV pumping out some daytime TV drivel. I had no idea that I could bring a laptop and get stuff done while I watch the day go by, but after seeing this morning that it was possible, I went home for lunch and brought mine back. Since I'm on a Tri-Met day ticket that I clipped out of my new Chinook Book, the extra loop was free. (The transit mall is a mess already, and the serious ripping (along with lots of bus route changes) doesn't kick in until this Sunday.)

From this vantage point, everything appears to be running smoothly at the courthouse except the security at the front door. The metal detector is kind of a bottleneck, with a line stretching out onto the street. The five minutes or so out there wasn't so bad in today's weather, but if we were talking a downpour, it would have been mighty unpleasant. I'm sure that the lack of a speedy screening system fits right in with the county's plan to build a new courthouse and implode this place. I hope they're planning to do the security right in the new building. The fact that all that probing is needed at all is a sad comment on our world. On a drizzly gray day like this, the quicker the process works, the better.

Anyway, even if my number is called today, do you think I'll actually wind up on a jury? Occupation: law professor. Brother of a career prosecutor, who in turn is married to another career government lawyer. Would any lawyer leave me on the jury panel for an actual case? Seems unlikely.

But hey, as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer showed us two years ago this week, when you're called, you go. One of the judges reminded us in our orientation this morning: It's a great country, but you don't get to live here for free.

UPDATE, 6:42 p.m.: Congratulate me -- I think I'm what they call a "venireman." Toward the end of the day, I and 41 others were herded into a courtroom to be "inspected and selected" by the attorneys in a case. (You Arlo Guthrie fans will recognize the quotation. And while discussing medical issues that might prevent them from serving on the trial, a couple of prospective jurors revealed that they had also been "injected"!) Anyway, they kicked a few people out -- not me -- and so it's back down there I go in the morning.

What a great blog entry I could write about the courtroom scene, but I can't discuss the case with anyone -- at least, not tonight.

Comments (22)

In the screenplay, you'd be called for a case where the bad guy goes free. Then later, you'd use your blog to solve it.

So you mean you missed the incredible OPB radio simulcast of the Governor's inauguration? If that wasn't an example of the LACK of separation between church and state, I don't know what would be. I didn't hear God and Jesus mentioned so many times and with so much conviction the last time I was in church!

Back to the thread: I did jury duty once in Portland - a bomb making case actually, quite interesting.

I didn't hear God and Jesus mentioned so many times and with so much conviction the last time I was in church!

Wow, that's surprising.

I did my civic duty last summer. What a fascinating experience. Of course, like you, I didn't see the light of a jury box except during voir dire. Let's see. Medical malpractice case involving a bad outcome in spine surgery. My wife, a radiologist by profession, has had 4 spine surgeries with a good outcome. What are the odds of putting a college professor with those creds on the jury in a medical malpractice case. Worse still, we know the doctor because our kid goes to school with his kid.

I know - I had to double-check my radio for a second to see what station I was on. I mean, I'm not offended by it or anything, just surprised.

Got called to sit on a case of a bouncer seriously bouncing a drunk guy at The Triple Nickel a while back.

The prosecutor asked me if I could believe witnesses who admitted they were drinking.

I said, as a former barmaid, that I could not believe anything a drinker told me, not even the correct time.

I was home by lunch.

I sat on jury duty once and it shook my faith in the whole "jury of your peers" concept. We had a defendant who admitted that he committed the crime, but only because he was drinking. Slam dunk, right? I mean, c'mon, he ADMITTED it.

Still took two days of deliberations to come to a guilty verdict (which, incidently, really torqued off the judge). One of the jurors who initially polled innocent actually said, "Hey I was an alcoholic once. And I know how that messes you up and then you don't think straight". ARRGGGHH!!!

Wow! You get leather chairs???
In Columbia county we have used chruch pews and they are a bit hard after and hour or so!
After the initial voir dire, the judge stood up on a chair and took a digital picture of everyone and then the lawyers and the judge went back into chambers to select the final jury members from the group mug shot!
This still strikes me as a bit odd.

What a racist blog.

I only got to sit in those leather chairs for about an hour before my name was called. But it wasn't because I was selected to go sit in the jury box. No, I had a phone call. It was my boss telling me to come back to work. Sure, I had been cleared to take the time to serve ... until the boss' boss found out.
So I hung up the phone and said, "I have to go back to work," and the kindly clerk said, "They can't do that." And then we stared at eachother for a moment and I left.

It was a tremendously educational experience.

Racist?? Huh? This again?

Oh, must have been this...

It's a great country, but you don't get to live here for free.


I once got as far as the part where the attorneys question potential jurors prior to selection. The defense asked me if I knew any police officers (I do). The prosecution asked me what the defense had to prove. I said the defense doesn't have to "prove" anything. "Yeah, that was sort of a trick question." I didn't get picked.

They've had wireless down in the jury assembly room for quite a long time -- since before it was easy to get it to work on my old and not much lamented late PC laptop, so probably five years or so. It's a nice amenity for an otherwise slow day. The reading material in there makes a doctor's waiting room look like Rich's Cigar Store by comparison. And wireless, if it isn't crushed, could be a help to the people who are buried in the rubble of the County Courthouse in the next significant local earthquake. That risk, I'm thinking, is the major sacrifice involved in jury duty in Multnomah County.

I've been selected to sit on one jury. It was a hit & run and reckless driving case with a twist. The defendant was relying on the defense of "necessity," saying that she was driving the way she was on her way home from work at midnight because she was trying to get away from a guy in another car who had threatened her.

As explained by the lawyers, the defense of necessity basically says that you were justified in your (otherwise illegal) actions to prevent the threat of a greater harm. The precursor to this is that she admitted the hit&run and reckless driving actions, so our job was to decide if her actions really were necessary to avoid a greater harm. As soon as we got into the jury room, half the jurors were ready to convict "because she said she did it." It took a good while to reach a consensus from that starting point...

I've been called at least four times over the years, and three of the four times, my number got picked. Each of those times, once the parties knew I was a lawyer, they had me removed.

It really makes sense, because I believe there would be a tendency for the other jurors to give undue weight to what "the lawyer" thinks. After all, if the parties wanted to try their case to a lawyer, they could opt for a bench trial.

I also think lawyers a booted more often than not is because they're hip to the rules of evidence and the tactics/theatrics attorneys routinely use in the courtroom.

Re the leather chairs: They are there because people made donations to some sort of charitable foundation that was set up to make jurors' days a little easier. Today the jury administrators asked us if we would donate a few bucks to this foundation. Why, of course. Indeed, it's the kind of thing that one might even consider making a more substantial contribution to.

Jack, awesome! now you should be disqualified from duty for being a racist pig!

A mind is such a terrible thing to waste.

skyview satellite: ... I had a phone call. It was my boss telling me to come back to work. Sure, I had been cleared to take the time to serve ... until the boss' boss found out. So I hung up the phone and said, "I have to go back to work," and the kindly clerk said, "They can't do that." And then we stared at each other for a moment and I left.

Obviously, they can do that, they did, and they apparently got away with it -- this time. What the kindly clerk should have told you was that attempting to coerce an employee to avoid jury duty is a felony (read your jury summons), and asked you to make a police report. I know, it won't work very often, but it would eventually catch the sleazeball employers who habitually do this.

From your update I'm guessing the case is about dumping garbage down the side of a hillside and then having the draft board ask, "Son, have you ever been arrested?'

Ah, jury duty. Years ago, when I practiced law in southern Clackamas County, I was called to serve in Washington Co. Each day for 2 weeks, I drove to Hillsboro, sat, was called, and was challenged by the defense attorney. It seems that they did not want a former defense attorney (civil and criminal) serving on the panel. By then it was late in the day and too late to head to work. As I work for myself, it was an expensive fortnight, but since I request jurors to sit for me, I can't be a hypocrite and refuse to serve.

Now I live in Clackamas and practice in Washington. I'm just waiting for the day. . . .

Thanks, John, and you are entirely correct. Entirely. Yet sometimes it is a good thing that the law does not concern itself with trivialities and sometimes it is a bad thing. But mostly it is a good thing. That sleazeball is now my best reference. And how great is that.

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