Rules only they understand

A Little Perspective column by Pat Kelly, July 14 Boundary Creek Times.

I got a letter from the county—I had been called for jury duty.

When I originally got the summons I hoped that I might get to decide the fate of someone who really deserves to be called to account for what they have done. Someone like Henry Kissinger, or maybe I’d really get lucky and they would bring George W., Cheney and Rumsfeld into the courtroom in shackles to account for all of the death and suffering they have caused in this world.

Paperwork was the first order of business when I reported to the Jury Assembly Room at 8:15 on Monday morning. General questions about who I was, so that the lawyers could get a quick idea of whether they wanted to challenge me or not.

After an orientation, 12 jurors were to be chosen to hear a civil case where a fellow whose car was stolen was suing the insurance company after his claim was denied. I didn’t make the first cut as one of the selected 12 but by the time the judge and lawyers had gotten done with challenges and such, I wound up sitting in the jury box.

The complainant was representing himself. The insurance company had a lawyer to argue the case and a witness who is employed by the company as a special investigator. They also had another lawyer and a private investigator in the courtroom ready to be called as witnesses.

We next went through opening arguments where each side outlined the evidence they would present. The case: a high performance Mustang Cobra had been stolen a couple of years ago and later found stripped of its engine and transmission, but the owner hadn’t been paid by the company. The company claimed that, suspecting fraud, they had investigated and found the complainant could not back up his story to their satisfaction and denied the claim outright.

During his opening, the company lawyer brought up stuff that, in my humble opinion, was unrelated—trying to use credit history and an unrelated felony conviction in the man’s past to show him of poor character. There was also some question about whether the car was registered to the man himself or to a company he was partner in.

The poor complainant was outgunned from the get-go. Representing himself, he was in over his head. When asked to present his evidence, after a poor attempt (with the judge trying twice to help guide him) the poor chap appeared flustered and said his case was simple: his car had been stolen and his claim denied. He then closed his presentation of evidence.

The lawyer for the insurance company asked to make a motion; the jury was hustled out of the room for 10 minutes and when we returned, the judge said he had dismissed the case for insufficient evidence.

The whole experience has left a sour taste in my mouth. I guess the lesson to be learned is to hire a lawyer up front—because you are going to have to play by rules only they understand.

For myself, the next time I get a jury summons and they ask if anyone has a predisposition that would preclude them from reaching an unbiased decision in the case I will tell them that justice seems to be a heck of a good idea and they ought to give it a try sometime. But I see this system as rigged and would rather not be implicated any further.

Take care of someone who loves you ….


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