Judge, jury and…say what again?

Recently called for a month of jury duty, I showed up at the various appointed times, and actually made the next-to-final cut for two different cases, but never got the nod to actually sit on a trial jury.

Not to say I didn’t leave my mark in Orleans Parish Criminal Court.  OPCH

My second day there, I got the call to go upstairs as part of a pool of fifty potential jurors. We were escorted to the courtroom in groups of twenty-five, and for the questioning, I was seated in the top row of the jury box – an interesting comfortable vantage point to the whole voir dire process.

This particular trial was not a typical situation – it was a cold case; nearly twenty years had passed since the crime, and both the prosecution and defense told us they would be relying on the reliability of possibly degraded DNA evidence, and two-decade old memories for testimony. Both sides acknowledged up front that testimony via hazy recollections and recalled memories presented a variety of challenges.

The defendant sat stoically through the proceedings as the prosecution took their turn at interviewing us. He remained that way through the early part of his defense team doing the potential-juror questioning, though by then he had started making more notes on his notepad – adding a few doodles at times.

The prosecution had moved us through all the basic stuff – occupations, background, our attitudes about a variety of issues, what television crime shows we watched regularly. That part surprised me, but apparently this is standard procedure these days in cases of this nature due to the proliferation of the ‘crime show procedurals’ as one of the prosecutors put it. Both sides said they want juries bloodvialsto understand the science of crime fighting via DNA and other forensics is not as cut-and-dried as on ‘CSI and shows of that ilk’ s one of the attorneys phrased it. When asked, most of my fellow jurors and I were in agreement that was all a very reasonable line of questioning, though a few seemed expressed bewilderment that watching TV would be a factor.

It was interesting.

As this was a cold case, both the prosecution and defense took great pains to note that this trial would hinge primarily on witness testimony – twenty-year-old memories and changed relationships. Both sides also asked a series of questions focusing on how we judged people’s trustworthiness, especially after a lot of time had elapsed. When the lead defense attorney got his crack at us, he said right at the start that we may not find some of the defense witnesses to be particularly likable or even all that supportive of the defendant they were testifying for. He was very pointed in asking us if we felt we could still believe what someone had to say, even if our personal opinion of that person was not very high.  Some of my fellow jurors-in-waiting were very uncomfortable with the prospect.

Me? Not so much.

The defense attorney, an African-American man of about thirty-five who had pretty much stuck to confirming questions about my background and neighborhood of residence to that point, finally got around to asking me about how I viewed people and their credibility.

csalesofjustice“Mr. Lucker” he intoned calmly, “Would it be possible for you to accept and believe the testimony of witnesses who may not seem at first glance to be all that credible, and decide the case on that testimony if you didn’t always find them credible?”

“It depends.  I guess a lot of it would depend on the rest of the equation, how much I did or didn’t believe the other side’s witnesses. ”

He looked at me intently, and his tone turned somewhat quizzical, and very pointed. “Mr. Lucker, are you saying you could foresee a trial situation where you didn’t necessarily believe anything that anybody had to say?”

I shrugged. “I teach high school. I deal with that, evvv. ry. -DAY!”

The place erupted in laughter; even the judge was chortling. The court stenographer actually turned and looked at me. The bailiffs seemed especially tickled, as did all four attorneys. The defendant was chuckling as he scribbled away on his yellow legal pad. The defense attorney smiled, shook his head, looked down at his notes briefly before looking back at me, making eye contact and giving me a little ‘good one’ salute before moving on to one of my partners-in-jurisprudence, still smiling and shaking his head.

I made the initial cut down to ten out of our pool, but did not make the final jury. Nor did I get in the last word.

Wrapping up his juror questioning, the defense attorney revisited a few of us who had made the cut down to ten with a series of final questions – though in my case it was more his pre-follow-up-question salutation that was noteworthy: “One more question, Mr. Lucker. We have already established…” he paused dramatically. “That you teach high school….”

william_talman_raymond_burrThe room was again enveloped in laughter, including mine. I returned the attorney’s ‘nice one’ gesture from earlier, and he smiled.

Touché.  I had been Perry Masoned during jury selection.

So while I never did get to provide much service-to-society in the way of fulfilling my civic duty, I did get a good taste of both sides of our judicial system:

I got to deliver the punchline and play the straight man.

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Another phone call anecdote…

A few years back I came up with a rather humorous (at least to me) tactic for dealing with telemarketers that I was convinced would get me placed on a wide array of ‘don’t call this nut case’ lists. In retrospect, that was just a pipe dream – though it did provide me some occasional satisfaction to actually get a telemarketer to hang up on me.

On one occasion, it took a bit longer than usual.

Rinnnnnnng.

“Hello?”
“Hi,is this Mr. Lucker?”
“Yes it is.”
“Hi, Mr. Lucker, how are you today? I’m calling today to speak with you about your home…”
“Hold on for a sec; before you go any further I’ll need your credit card number.”

Pause.

“Pardon me sir?”
“Yeah, I’ll be happy to listen to any sales pitch you’ve got, but I charge $3.99 for the first minute, and a dollar for every minute after that.”

Pause. (This is the point where they usually hang up on me. Not this time.)

“Well, sir, I’m not sure how that works…”
“Like I said, I’ll listen to any sales pitch you’ve got, but my time is valuable, so it’s $3.99 for the first minute, and a dollar for each additional minute.”
“Sir, I’m not sure we do it that way here…”
But I’m a persistent fellow, so I keep plugging away “So do you want to use Visa, MasterCard or American Express?”

Pause.

“Well, I’ll have to check with my manager to see how we do that. Can you hold on a moment, sir?”
“Sure.”

By this point I am thinking the guy is going to realize what is happening, and just hang up like they usually do when I give them my sales pitch…but not this guy. Then, not only does he not hang up on me,  he doesn’t even put me on hold, so I get the added bonus of hearing his conversation with his manager, brief and muffled though it was.

“He needs a credit card number from us” says sales dude to his manager.
“What?” is followed by unintelligible conversation for about ten seconds and then the manager screams, a quite UN-muffled..

”We don’t give anybody a *(&%$@% credit card number! Hang up the *%$$(%^!# phone!”

All in a day’s work.

A soon-back-to-school, true-story tidbit from the Poetry Marchives:

Small packages

My mom found the dead chipmunk
I had brought home from the lake
at the end of the summer I was ten; a
lifeless stripe-tailed rodent who had
come home with me in a black-and-blue
JC Penney shoebox on which I had
scrawled ‘stuff’ in warning-like, stay
out, black MagicMarker

He sure looked stuffed.

A car (maybe Ivar’s Jeep) had run
him over on the driveway leading up
to Ivar and Lila’s house; caught him
dead-on from behind as he was
running upstream on the sandy drive
flattening his little chipmunk carcass
into a faux- bearskin rug fit for use
by Barbie’s Alpine Chalet fireplace

Absolutely flat, a cookie-cutter
perfect silhouette.

With two sticks, I moved him to the
cement fringe of the garage slab;
the northwoods sun used July to bake
him leaving a clean, tanned hide

By the time my summer at the lake
had drawn to a close he was stiff,
flat, odorless – fit for petting.

He was then slipped into the box,
transported home in our dark-blue
Plymouth Fury (that in the right light
resembled a hearse) where he then
got stuffed under my single-bed
mausoleum and was soon forgotten.

The week before school, archeologist
mom was cleaning out my room, found
the box, called up the block to the
Gilberg’s house, where I was playing,
had me come home.

Mrs. Gilberg stifled a laugh as I left –
‘guffawed,’ she told me years later –
once I had gone out her door, as my
mom had informed her of the discovery

I caught all sorts of hell when I got home –
but at least I never got my hide tanned,
and shoved into a box under a bed.

An anecdote for whatever ails ya’

The other night newly-minted sixth grader Sam and I were at a New Orleans Zephyrs game, enjoying an evening of decent AAA baseball. Mr. Baseball (Sam) had asked me to explain a quirky play that we had just seen, and I did my best to do so. Sam continued to watch the continuing action as I spoke, his eyes never leaving the field. I asked him if my explanation made sense.

“Well, in my defense…”

“What do you mean, ‘in my defense’?” I interrupted quizzically.

“That’s what I say to kids at school when the accuse me of things.”

“Annnnnnd…..what, exactly, do they accuse you of?”

Eyes still glued to game action below, he didn’t miss a beat: “Being devilishly handsome without a license.”

His deadpan delivery was punctuated by the thud of pitched ball hitting catcher’s glove.

“Being devilishly handsome without a license?”

“Yep.” Just a hint of a smile appeared at the corner of his mouth.

“Just plead guilty and pay the fine.”

“Okay.”

Play ball.

Lost soul: A Mardi gras moment.

Saturday night, enjoying Krewe du Vieux, (http://www.kreweduvieux.org/) one of the smaller, more intimate Mardi gras parades, when the parade stops for a moment.

One of the parade participants is in a unit that has a wrestling theme, and this guy is holding one of the corner-posts to an actual ring, while shenanigans ensue inside said ring (another story entirely).

The guy (along with all his cohorts) is wearing a full, Mexican-style, masked wrestler head mask…but this guy also sports a vibrant, green and yellow Green Bay Packers poncho. He is standing right in front of me so I holler out the most logical think I can think of:

“We love Brett Favre”!

The guy gives a huge sigh, bows his head, shaking it sadly, says mournfully,

“Gimme about ten years”.

With that, the parade began moving again. Back to the revelry.