Jury Duty Part III – The Verdict

Finally, the last day came. After the closing arguments we officially went into jury deliberations.

Someone volunteered for jury foreman, so that was a quick decision. After that we decided to start by taking a quick vote just to test the waters. There were three defendants, and we were immediately unanimous in agreeing that two of them were not guilty. However, we were split on the third defendant, slightly in favor of not guilty by a vote of 7 to 5.

Honestly, I’m kind of glad we didn’t all agree. If we would have all agreed it would have been almost TOO easy, you know? And then I would have missed out on one of the key experiences of jury duty. That being said, I didn’t have anybody to watch the kids on Friday, so I surely didn’t want deliberations to last until then.

Of the 5 who felt the final defendant was guilty, three of them were convinced fairly quickly, leaving the score at 10 – 2. At this point it was probably inevitable, but just then the bailiff came in and informed us that in 10 minutes we were to be sent home, and we could return the next day to continue deliberations. I think this was the final pressure to flip the other two jurors, and we came up with a verdict of not guilty for all three parties on all counts.

This somewhat bothered me. I really, really hope that those two jurors were okay with their decision and not just going along with the crowd. I told them I’d much rather come in the next day and debate until they were sure than have them spend the next 10 years thinking they’d made the wrong decision. But at the end of the day, they signed their name on the paper. So I guess I can’t worry about them too much.

Whenever I tell people about the trial, they always seem extremely surprised that the ruling was not guilty. I guess people think that if something goes all the way to trial, then that means they are guilty? I don’t know, but I do know that I am surprised that people are surprised. I guess I really didn’t have any preconceived notions about their guilt, but I thought that was the way everybody felt. Maybe I was in the minority after all.

Now I personally had always felt the defendants were not guilty throughout the trial; my opinion had never wavered. I really tried to keep two things in mind:

Number one was to separate out hindsight. In retrospect we know that perhaps certain actions could have been taken which may have changed the outcome for this poor lady. However, it is a question of negligence: could the doctors have known, should they have known, would any random doctor off the street put into their position have known what was going on without the benefit of hindsight? Putting myself in their shoes, I don’t think so. I think they acted reasonably with the data they had. As a software engineer, I can’t count the number of times I’ve spent hours or even days trying to track down some mysterious bug, only to have it be so obvious once the root cause is eventually found. Thank god I don’t have somebody staring over my shoulder and questioning every decision I make. Being a doctor is a hard, hard job.

Number two was to separate out sympathy. There’s no question that something horrific happened to this lady and that the rest of her life is going to be rough. But was it because of these doctors? Sometimes bad things happen to people. Was this bad thing the fault of these doctors, or was it just one of those things that happen? Not everybody who has something bad happen to them deserves to sue.

As we filed back into the court, I found it hard to look at anybody, plaintiff or defendant. As the clerk read out the final verdict, my heart was pounding, my stomach was roiling, and I was sweating. Why? I totally agreed with the ruling. It was just stressful being part of this enormous decision. One way or the other, someone’s life was going to change in a major way. In retrospect, maybe the weight of making this decision really had been weighing on me all along, and causing me a lot more stress than I realized. Even now, a week later, I still occasionally think to myself, “Did we make the right decision?”

Afterwards I stayed behind in the jury room until everybody had cleared out to make sure I could snatch the leftover doughnuts. Therefore, I missed out on the lawyers questioning the jury members. Apparently, it is a common practice that the various lawyers wait out in the hallway and ask jury members about their thought process and what happened during deliberations. I’m not opposed to that per say, but I just didn’t want to talk about it at that moment. I was really just feeling overwhelmed. So I weaved through the chaos and made it to the elevator untouched. Afterward, I was talking to some of the other jury members outside, and the plaintiff’s attorneys ran into me out there. It wasn’t too bad though, they actually seemed like nice guys.

I almost forgot to mention, the judge gave me a nice jury certificate, suitable for framing. You can be assured that will go right on my wall.

In retrospect, I’m a little nostalgic for the whole thing. It was just one of those experiences that really sticks with you. I’m glad the jury was so nice. I didn’t get any information to keep in contact with anybody, but I do feel like it was a bit of a bonding experience the way we were all sort of thrown into this sort of unique, life-disrupting circumstance. But jury duty is no joke: weighty, make-or-break life decisions take their toll on you, whether you are conscious of it or not.

I’d do it again, though, if a suitable period of time passed. It was definitely one of the more interesting things I’ve done in my life. And hopefully a little justice was served, at my hands. I’m kind of like a super hero, if you think about it.

Jury Duty Part II – The Trial

The trial started immediately the next day. I thought it wouldn’t be like in the movies, but in fact it was *exactly* like in the movies. There was a time on the first day when three lawyers simultaneously shouted “objection!” all at the same time. I was like, “That just happened! That was awesome!” We even got an “asked and answered”.

The trial was fascinating, but exhausting. Aside from the emotional testimony, I think it just took so much concentration, with very few breaks, paying attention to every nuance and every piece of complicated medical testimony. Every night I would just be absolutely exhausted, to where I couldn’t even think straight. Other jury members confirmed the same. And then of course, there was the additional stress of getting the kids where they needed to be, finding parking downtown, etc. to say nothing of trying to keep up with work in the evenings, or the usual things like dishes and laundry. I didn’t expect jury duty to be so physically demanding, and harder than work. I felt particularly heroic the day I got Ollie to daycare, the carpool to school, and pulled into the parking garage 1 minute before I was too late for the “early bird special” rate.

Then there was Evie’s surgery.

The court did not see fit to give me the day off, but granted me permission to keep my phone on me in case there was an emergency. How kind. Luckily, Evie’s surgery was scheduled for 2 o’clock, so I made an appeal (which was granted) to be let out early in time for me to make it to the hospital by the time she woke up. The morning of, the doctor called and said the surgery had been moved up to 9:30 a.m.. When we told them we couldn’t do 9:30, they basically said, “too bad, so sad, nanny nanny boo boo.” Between the court and the hospital, I guess what worked for us was pretty much irrelevant.

I took my phone into court on silent mode, and I received a text around the time that Evie should have been coming out of surgery. I assumed that was just Sara confirming everything was okay. However, I quickly received two more texts in quick succession. “Oh no,” I thought, “Sara’s frantically texting me, something’s gone wrong.” I agonized over it for awhile before using my notebook to shield me and sneaking a peek at my phone when the judge was looking the other way. Turns out the other two texts were coincidental, from a coworker, and my worry was for naught. By the time I got home, Evie was already recovered and well.

After that, everything seemed to sink in a little bit more, and we fell into a sort of a routine. The best days were the ones when I could take the train, but even driving wasn’t bad. I started to enjoy the short commute, the chance to do a little walking now and again, and the general hubbub of downtown. During our lunch break I could either go for a walk downtown or just sit and look out the 25th story window at the beautiful view of downtown and the lake. Lunch was provided by the court, but after careful consideration, I will not be recommending the jury room for dining to out of town guests. We didn’t know when we would get breaks so I started taking every chance to pee, because I have a 2 year old and these sorts of concerns are ever on my mind.

As the week wore on, some people were starting to get fatigued but I still founding it interesting. It was fascinating to see the procedural stuff and the gamesmanship of the lawyers. A couple of days we ended up getting out early because the questioning went a little faster than expected and there were no more witnesses for the day. However, it was a bit like getting a snow day you know you’ll have to make up in June; we didn’t want the trial to last any longer than it had to.

Again, the thing that really surprised me was how exhausting the whole ordeal was. That just wasn’t something I would have guessed.

The one really positive thing was my fellow jury members. We honestly all got along great and I really enjoyed their company. I could see how easy it would be for one crummy person to really ruin the whole thing for everybody. Luckily, that was not a worry for us. This was especially considering that the jury was truly diverse. Young, old, black, white, hispanic, male, female…you couldn’t have had a more diverse crowd if you were planning one of those fake “see how much everybody loves our products?” commercials.

Again, no matter what trials and tribulations I was going through, someone else always had it worse. Some of the other jurors were not being paid while serving on the jury. One was a student who was missing classes just before finals. One was even suspended by her job, and the judge had to intercede on her behalf. She said afterwards that she would probably look for a new job based on the bad blood caused by this.

Now that’s dedication to jury duty!

Jury Duty Part I – Jury Selection

As some of you are aware, I have spent the last couple of weeks doing my civic duty.

I have never been called for jury duty before, and I have to admit, at first I was a teensy bit excited. It was sort of like a holiday, with a chance of peeking behind the curtain a little bit on the judicial process. I really wasn’t worried about having to actually serve on the jury; nobody ever gets picked.

First off, you have to call the night before to see if you have to show up or not, and I was absolutely sure I wouldn’t have to show up. Of course, I did have to show up, but surely I would sit in the room all day long and never be called like everybody else I’ve ever spoken to about jury duty. My number was the first called, and within 15 minutes of arrival, I was on an elevator up to a court room.

Interestingly, when we arrived in the court the judge informed us, “I have good news and bad news; the good news is that just by showing up today, you’ve decided this case. The case is closed. However, the bad news is you’ll have to go back down and wait again in the jury room.”

SURELY that would be my closest brush with the law, and I would spend the rest of the day languishing in the waiting room. Nobody gets called up once, much less twice!

About 15 minutes later I was back on the elevator. “This trial is scheduled for 2 1/2 weeks,” the bailiff informed us, “so if you have any commitments, you’d better speak up. Once you’re picked, there’s no getting out if it.”

The jury selection was very interesting. They called up 12 people into the jury box and questioned them, eliminating anybody with even a hint of conflict of interest. I was kind of surprised at how many people had conflicts of interest. In fact, they read us the list of plaintiffs, defendants and potential witnesses and asked if any of us recognized the names. A gentleman in the second row stood up and said, “Yes. I work for an insurance agency reviewing malpractice cases, and I reviewed this case.” Boom. Now that’s how you get off a jury.

Of course, I’m pretty sure that some of the excuses were made up, just to get off the jury. At first that bothered me, but then I decided that everybody knew they were lying, so everybody’s happy: they get off the jury, and the judge gets rid of dishonest people that shouldn’t be on the jury anyway.

There were at least 50 potential jurors in there, so I felt fairly confident that a jury would be picked before it was my turn to go up. Therefore, I was in the next group called up.

Some of the questions they asked potential jurors made sense, but a lot of them didn’t. “Do you have pets? Do you like puzzles? Have you ever had any bumper stickers?” I was asked this last one. “Well,” I replied, “in college I had a Dave Matthews bumper sticker…” Oh how they all had a good laugh over that one. It’s his stupid question, and I don’t really see why my answer was any more ridiculous than anybody else’s answer. That’s the bumper sticker I had! Why ask the question if you don’t want an honest answer?

After a few more questions, they dismissed one of the potential jurors and moved on to the next group. I sat there with a stupid smile slowly fading from my face. I hadn’t been dismissed. Wait a minute, that means I’m selected!

Until that moment, I still never thought I’d be picked, and certainly I’d never thought I’d be signed up for such a big commitment. I just sat there in horror as I realized how much this was going to disrupt my life. How was I going to get Evie to school, manage at work, etc.? Our life is only possible by having such a routine, and now that was totally disrupted.

The trial started at 9 a.m. the next day, but I think it literally took days for me to emerge from my fugue. It’s like my mind kept sliding off the issue every time I tried to think about it. It was a such a colossal disaster that I couldn’t wrap my mind about it. Shell-shocked is the only way to describe it.

However, every time I started in on “woe is me”, I would think if not me, who? There’s nobody who wouldn’t have some sort of commitment over the span of 2 1/2 weeks. What makes me so special that I should get out of it?

My Civic Duty

I received a summons to be a standby juror.  I’ve never been a juror before and I would kind of be excited about it, but it falls right in the middle of an upcoming vacation.  Now, I don’t want to get out of jury duty.  I know everybody wants to get out of jury duty, something so true it has become a cliche.  But I think everybody should do their part, I just wish my part didn’t have to fall during my vacation.  I am supposed to call a number the day before after 4:30 p.m. to find out if I am to show up at court at 9:30 a.m. the following day.  Obviously that wouldn’t leave much time and we would have to cut our vacation short just in case.  The crappy thing is that most people I’ve talked to that have bee standby jurors do not get called, so it would probably be for nothing.

So I called to see if I could just move my standby jury status to another week.  Not to get out of it, mind you, but to postpone it until it was more convenient.  I was prepared for them to tell me no.  I was not prepared for what actually happened.  I called the phone number and gave them my juror number all official like and explained the situation and the conversation went like this:

Me: “So I was wondering if I could postpone it, perhaps for a week.”
Official Jury Coordinator Guy: “You’re going on vacation?”
Me: “Yes”
Official Jury Coordinator Guy: “Just disregard the notice.”
Me: “Just disregard it?”
Official Jury Coordinator Guy: “Disregard it.”
Me: “Like, ignore it? I can do that?”
Official Jury Coordinator Guy: “Disregard it.”

Soooo, I guess I don’t have to worry about it?  He certainly didn’t seem to be concerned about it.  Perhaps he made a note on the computer (I did hear him typing at one point) and I will just be sent another notice, I don’t know.  Or I’ll go to jail.

As long as I’m talking about government stuff, let me say something about universal health care.  It has come up several times lately that France is a magical wonderland where doctor’in is free and everybody lives to 1000.  Sure, there are a lot of good things about the social programs in France and it is not hard to paint it in a good light.  The liberals here make the conservatives in France look like flithy communists.  But I’m here to tell you that all of the French guys I work with hate it with a passion.  The tax burden is so great in France that they couldn’t wait to get to the U.S.  I heard on NPR today that last year the health care in France was $9 billion dollars over budget.  That’s $9 billion on top of whatever considerable budget they had planned for it.  I did a quick seach and saw on pubmed that in 2000 their budget was $37 billion.  I’m sure that has gone up quite a bit in the last 8 years.

So I’m not saying our health care system isn’t broke and I’m not saying universal health care isn’t the way to go, but I am saying that we would have to come up with at least $50 billion a year to start with to cover it.  Factor in how much it is going to increase every year as health care naturally gets more expensive and add that to the war and Social Security and tell me how we are going to pay for that?  More taxes and a lot of them and then we end up where France ended up.  The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.