Friday, January 03, 2014

Dodging bullets of the metaphorical kind...

So, I dodged the jury duty bullet this week.

I'm not quite sure why they even bother during the week of New Year's Day, especially when the actual holiday is right in the middle of the week. In fact, when I got the summons, at the beginning of the month, I thought they were joking. But, yeah, they don't joke about jury duty.

And so, I had to check the county court's website on Sunday night, on Monday night, on Thursday night, and again at 11:30 in the morning today. And every time, until this morning, the message was the same: "You're on call, check back at..." And then this morning, finally, it said that I would not have to appear and that my duty was fulfilled...until the next time. At least, here in California, "the next time" can't be within the next year.

I really wasn't looking forward to having to go. Aside from the inconvenience, the last time I had jury duty I actually got on the jury. It wasn't a pleasant experience.

First of all, it was a civil case - a personal injury suit. That meant medical testimony. The problem with that? I've got severe medical anxiety. During some of the testimony, it was really difficult for me to keep from twitching - or from running out of the courtroom because when I have anxiety attacks, my "fight or flight" response kicks in. It also didn't help that the medical expert witness for the defendant was an arrogant ass. So were both of the attorneys.

But the actual time in the courtroom wasn't bad, even with my anxiety issues, as having to spend time with the other jurors. Deliberations were ridiculous. The consensus was that one of the witnesses for the woman bringing the suit was unbelievable - and probably stupid - because she had a "funny" speaking voice. Which I found ridiculous in the extreme. Yes, she sounded a bit like a cartoon character (think Minnie Mouse or Betty Boop). That did not mean anything about her character or her intelligence, but the jurors, especially the male jurors, seemed to think that her speaking voice rendered anything coming out of her mouth either a lie or irrelevant.

The consensus of the jury (but not my feeling) was that because the woman bringing suit hired a lawyer directly after the accident that was the focus of the case, that meant that she was, from the time she got rear-ended, she was determined to make a killing in court. Now, it has always been my understanding that if you are involved in any kind of event that results in injury and involves insurance companies, it is wise to hire an attorney to protect your rights. Not this jury. But that wasn't the most suspicious thing the woman did, according to this group. Even more suspicious was that she went to a chiropractor rather than an M.D. after the accident. To many on the jury, that meant that she wasn't really hurt, but just wanted to file a lawsuit. I attempted to explain that some people go to M.D.s and some people go to chiropractors, and that there is nothing illegal or suspicious about that. I was also careful to explain that I've never been to a chiropractor in my life, and so I did not have a dog in the fight about it. Let's just say that I was ridiculed for my contention.

I also want to make it clear that I wasn't convinced enough by the argument of the plaintiff that I was willing to award her everything she was asking for. Not at all. I didn't think there was enough evidence presented that her injuries was severe enough that she would have to be on medication for those injuries for the rest of her life, which was most of what she was asking for from the defendant - the money to pay for those meds. However, I did think it was reasonable to award her the money she had to put out after the accident for the tests (and the chiropractor did send her to an M.D. for those tests, as I recall) to determine just exactly what the extent of her injuries were, considering that all the evidence presented in court (by a very interesting gentlemen who specializes in accident reconstructions) tended to support her contention that the accident was not her fault (she was stopped at a stoplight and was rear-ended by the woman she was suing. The rest of the jury was not even willing to do that.

The worst part was that during deliberations I was bullied by the jury foreman (and it was a man) when I tried to point out that they were going beyond the jury instructions, which set out exactly what sorts of things could be taken into consideration in deciding the case. I finally just gave up and let them do what they were going to do because it was clear that my arguments weren't doing any good.

The whole thing left me with a huge distrust of the jury system. I have no clue whether it is common for juries to be that dismissive of the actual stated jury instructions and just decide cases on the basis of their prejudices, but that's exactly what happened in that case and I suspect that it happens more often that most people suspect. I don't look forward to being in that sort of situation again. And that's why I wasn't thrilled with the idea of having to go to jury duty.

But, like I said, I dodged the bullet this time, and I shouldn't have to worry about it again for a year, at least.

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