Of Judges and Juries



Photograph: Bob Capazzo

The blockbuster murder series this magazine is running got me to thinking about jury duty and the only time in my life I wasn’t proud to be an American.

It was the moment the O. J. verdict came in. Jack and I were in France sailing on Scott Frantz’s Ticonderoga in the Nioulargue Regatta. Along with other friends of his parents, we were staying in a villa in St. Tropez. It had no television, so people walked to a nearby hotel to catch the end of the trial, while I stayed behind to help another guest, an Italian gentleman, cook dinner for the crew. (I’m good at chopping celery.) When the phone rang with the news, I held my breath. Not guilty? We couldn’t believe it. I was embarrassed for our country.

But never mind the extraordinary criminal cases. Civil lawsuits in the United States cost $200 billion a year, and our graduate schools are teeming with budding lawyers. It is said we have 80 percent of the world’s lawyers but only 5 percent of its population. For them to get by, I guess everybody will just have to keep suing each other.

Which leads to some absurd cases. Take a Mr. Dickson from Pennsylvania who got locked in a garage for eight days. Via the garage, he was exiting a house he had just robbed while the family was on vacation, but the automatic door opener didn’t work and the door to the house had locked behind him. He survived on a case of Pepsi and big bag of dog food he found; but such was his distress that he sued the homeowners, and the jury awarded him a half-million dollars.

Then there was a young Mr. Truman from Los Angeles who got his hand run over while trying to steal a hubcap from his neighbor’s Honda Accord. He didn’t notice someone was at the wheel at the time. But he got awarded $74,000, plus medical expenses.

All this reminds me of the ditty: “There ain’t no justice in this land/I just got a divorce from my old man/I had to laugh at the judge’s decision/He got the kids and they ain’t his’n.”

I served on a jury once—in Stamford—and had a wonderful experience. Just before the statute of limitations ran out, an overweight old lady was suing a supermarket for injuries sustained years earlier when she had tripped over a rail meant to keep grocery carts in check. Her husband, a grizzled and equally large sea captain who only got home once a year, was also suing the store—for her inability to perform her marital duties. The picture was too much.

Our jury room was directly behind the judge’s chambers and when we heard his toilet flush, we knew the bailiff would come for us. After we had reached a verdict and were waiting to be called into the courtroom, I jokingly said, like the Scot and his kilts, “I wonder what the judge wears under his robes.” The toilet flushed, the bailiff appeared, and we ladies and gentlemen of the jury filed into our places in court. The judge was sitting there in a business suit.

Soon thereafter, he announced a ten-minute recess. So we were returned to our quarters, and when the bailiff led us back into court, there sat the judge in his robes. Obviously, if we could hear his toilet flush, he could hear a voice in the jury room if it was loud enough—like mine. By the way, since both the woman and the store were at fault, we awarded the elderly pair a middling amount. The lady cried. Why? Who knows. But the judge invited those of us jurors who were interested to join him in his chambers afterward to discuss the case. He was terrific.   

My grandmother would have been jealous. Gammy, a DAR and the most patriotic person I’ve ever known, was furious that she was never selected for a jury. I had to remind her that when she was asked, “Do you believe in capital punishment?”, she should not respond, “Certainly. If they’re guilty, fry ’em!”

But people have made an art of getting out of jury duty. Some of their ploys work; some don’t. You can say you have bladder problems and have to go every thirty minutes; you don’t feel comfortable being in a government building when the nation is on High Terror alert; you think the police in that town are corrupt; you have a sleep disorder and can’t get out of bed before 9:30 a.m. You can look over at the defendant and say, “He looks guilty”; talk in circles when questioned by the lawyers; get drunk before reporting in; grow a beard so you’ll be considered too independent a thinker; bring your kids along and let them tear up the place; figure that your jury summons didn’t come certified mail so how could they prove you even got it?

But in the end, if you have a chance to serve on a jury, my advice is “Do it.” Sure, it takes time, as do most of life’s memorable experiences. But it would really be good for our country to have educated jurors on duty—dare we say “for a change”?

 

Greenwich Agenda

  • TREEHOUSES: Look Who's Living in the Trees!

    2014.06.21
     @ Stamford Museum & Nature Center

    Saturday, June 21 - Monday, September 1 Hidden in the leaves, snug in the trunk or burrowed under the roots, what types of animals actually...

  • Exhibit: Tales of Two Cities: New York & Beijing | Greenwich, CT

    2014.05.03
     @ Bruce Museum

    May 3 – August 31, 2014 Tales of Two Cities: New York & Beijing This exhibition focuses on two of the world’s leading...

  • Saturday Vals Free Weekly In-Store Wine Tasting | Greenwich, CT

    2014.05.10
     @ Val's Putnam Wine And Liquors

    We will feature an array of new and different International wines that are selected by our staff as “Staff Picks Favorites” in...

  • Happy Hour | Greenwich, CT

    2014.01.26
     @ Morello Italian Bistro

    Refresh yourself with our famous Red & White Sangria! Don’t forget that during happy hour every day 4:30pm-6:30pm your 2nd drink...

  • Polo Benefit for Hope

    2014.08.31
     @ Greenwich Polo Club

    For the second year in a row, Virginia's House of Hope is having a fundraiser at the Greenwich Polo Club! Join us on Sunday, August...

  • SM&NC Farm Market

    2014.06.15
     @ Stamford Museum & Nature Center

    Sundays, June 15 – October 5, 10am – 2pm We're thrilled to bring back the SM&NC Farm Market — now on Sundays!...

  • Animal Meet and Greet

    2014.06.22
     @ Stamford Museum & Nature Center

    Sundays, June 22 - August 31, 3:30 - 4:00pm Stop by for a chance to meet one of our Overbrook Nature Center or Heckscher Farm animals up...

  • Bar: Live Music | Greenwich, CT

    2014.03.09
     @ Barcelona Greenwich

    Join us in Greenwich every Sunday for live music and half-priced bottles of wine!

  • Greenwich Harbor Sunset Wine Cruise | Greenwich, CT

    2014.06.05
     @ Delamar Hotel Dock

    The boat "Prudence" departs from the Delamar Hotel Dock on 500 Steamboat Rd. All the wine is sponsored through VALS with food...

  • Exclusive Tour of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Yale University Art Gallery

    2014.09.09
     @ Yale University Art Gallery

    Join JCC Greenwich for an exclusive tour with museum curator Elizabeth Manekin. The collection is noteworthy for exemplary works from the...

  • Understanding the Gaza War: Strategic & Political Implications

    2014.09.09
     @ Greenwich Library, Cole Auditorium

    Dr. Efraim Inbar is a Professor in Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University and Director of its renowned Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic...

  • Bruce Museum: Look and See - Into the Deep

    2014.09.10
     @ Bruce Museum

    A program especially designed for children ages 3-5 years and their adult caregivers, who will explore the Museum’s exhibition through...

  • College Admissions Boot Camp | Greenwich, CT

    2014.09.13

    College Prep 360 will be offering two college admissions “boot camps” in their Greenwich office over the summer. The first workshop...

  • Nigh Season: New Paintings By David Konigsberg

    2014.09.13
     @ Kenise Barnes Fine Art

    Dates: September 13 – October 31, 2014 Opening Reception: September 13, 6 – 8:30 PM  Public Invited   NIGH...

  • Undulate: Paintings By Julie Gross and Margaret Neill

    2014.09.13
     @ Kenise Barnes Fine Art

    GALLERY II Dates: September 13 – October 31, 2014 Opening Reception: September 13, 6 – 8:30 PM Public Invited...

  • Greenwich Area Newcomers Annual Lobster Fest

    2014.09.14
     @ Tod's Point Clambake Area

    This is our kickoff event each year-held at Tod's Point Clambake area. The event is scheduled for Sunday September 14th starting...

  • Information Fair

    2014.09.16
     @ YMCA

    Our Annual Information Fair - This event showcases non profits , community businesses, schools and  services in the Greenwich...


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