The trial was scheduled for five days. Columns written in the evenings after a day absorbed in court and without benefit of real-time experience in the minute-by-minute news cycle of the Trump age ... they wouldn't feel the same.
I did not want to be on the jury.
I was confident I'd get rejected by one side or the other if called into the box. That's what has happened every other time.
Once a lawyer asked if any of the prospective jurors knew one of the defendants in a civil suit. I said I knew him from tennis. Then the lawyer asked if anyone knew a second defendant. I raised my hand and said that fellow also played tennis. Then the lawyer asked about a third defendant, and, when I raised my hand, the lawyer said he'd assume this gentleman also played tennis. "Left-hander," I said.
I got struck from that jury.
Lawyers tell me I can expect to be dismissed every time. They say it's because my job is to have opinions. They also suggest that I might be adjudged as the type to think I know as much or more than the lawyers and expert witnesses.
In a criminal case, the prosecutor will probably think I'm a criminal-coddler, because I get called liberal. In a civil case for money, one side or the other will probably deem me pre-disposed. Failing that, I'll probably know somebody in the case.
This time, I was intrigued. This was a wrongful-death case seeking what the plaintiffs' lawyer warned would be a "big number."
An 18-year-old male had died. Some time previously, he'd gone to the emergency room. An X-ray would have revealed the rare disorder that killed him, and presumably led to treatment. But the doctor didn't order one. The parents were suing him.
I suspect the doctor's lawyer scratched through my name the moment it was the 22nd drawn for a 22-person pool from which the lawyers would seat 12 jurors and an alternate. If not at that moment, then the doctor's lawyer surely rejected me when I told the plaintiffs' lawyer that I write an opinion column for the newspaper and that, over the years, I had written a position on medical damage caps.
I'm against damage caps and other "tort reform" special privileges. I resent medical providers seeking to impose special protections for themselves against regular people seeking redress of grievances in court.
It's like not trusting the voters in a presidential race and setting up an electoral college. You see the fine mess that got us.
The truth, though, was that I was sitting there mildly troubled by the notion that parents would seek millions representing the lost lifetime earnings of their surely beloved son. The lost earnings would be the departed son's, not theirs. I was struggling with an economic compensator for parents in a child's death.
And I've been in frenetic emergency rooms and found myself sensitive to delays--and even understanding of errors.
When Mom slipped along the side of the bed in the nursing home and hit her behind on the hard floor and complained of hip pain, and I wondered why she had not yet been attended to in the emergency room, I said simply, "oh, OK," when an attendant explained that three gunshot victims had just been brought in.
But then I've encountered aloof, arrogant doctors in emergency rooms.
In the courtroom Monday, I was skeptical, curious, dubious--of both sides, thus objective. I didn't think I knew everything. I thought I knew approximately nothing.
I was ready to absorb the facts of the case and apply the law as the judge instructed. I'd have been an ideal juror.
After hoping I'd be struck, I got my feelings hurt when it happened.
But the obstetrician-gynecologist also was dismissed, after she said she was having trouble with the instruction to consider only the evidence and not apply her independent knowledge. The man who was an emergency room nurse--and who knew all about the drugs and procedures that the plaintiff's lawyer asked about ... he was, like me, not called back into the box for the final seating of the jury. And the woman who worked in some sort of administrative review of hospital procedures, and who said that she acknowledges that everyone makes mistakes but couldn't ever understand leaving a foreign or extraneous object inside a body after surgery ... she didn't make it to the jury either.
I get that. The lawyers had voluminous files representing their arduous preparations. They wanted the case decided on their studied presentations, not colored by two or three jurors ad-libbing during deliberations.
They wanted not dumb people, but competent people who brought blank slates and evident neutrality.
It's not a perfect system. But it's the world's best.
And there's always an appeal to an electoral college.
To a higher court, I mean.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at email@example.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.
Editorial on 04/19/2018
Print Headline: Wading in the pool