Saturday, August 14, 2004

Jury Duty, the Final Battle

OK, first of all I have to offer this disclaimer: all names are changed, and while the events bear a certain striking resemblance to this story, what I'm writing about here is filtered through that awful bitch known as bias. All our notes were destroyed at the end of the case, so these can really only be considered the hopped-up ramblings of a maniacal loser who couldn't talk about any of this for a week and had to blow it all out, diarrhea style, in an amazingly long tale of good vs evil, of light vs darkness. And, as always, I am the protagonist in my own little personal movie.

Here it is, a traditional Japanese monster movie, King Me vs. King Shit.

The case was a civil case, a suit brought by Little Old Lady (LOL) against the Special School District (SSD) alleging discrimination. She had been a teachers assistant in the SSD for ~6 years, and had had a stroke well before she started working there. The stroke left her with left side paralysis, so she can't use her left hand and she's got a leg brace on her left leg, meaning she can only walk slowly and has trouble with two-handed tasks.

In the 99-00 school year, she had a personality conflict with one teacher which led the district to reassigning her to “shadow” a violent student, something she physically couldn't do, so she turned down the assignment. The district then hemmed and hawed for three years, getting her to sign letters of intent to work for SSD, but never actually giving her an assignment. When she ultimately brought the suit against SSD, they gave her a bullshit assignment and then dropped her like a hot potato. She was suing for three years' back pay, which amounted to 55,000 bucks, a ridiculously low amount for three years of work (and I also found out that Missouri law forbids teachers and TA’s from unionizing), and for emotional damages for 100k, and another 100k in punitive damages.

In the first of what would be many delays for the jurors, I befriended almost instantly a guy named Jack who was a food inspector for the department of health ("avoid eating at a chinaman restaurant" was his advice). I also became pretty tight with this 55 year old woman named Jill. At one point during one of our many downtimes, I told her a short story about Ophelia, about how she'd itemized her jewelry for me at one point, and how I was shocked that each piece (two old engagement rings, a platinum necklace, a diamond nose stud) was worth more than twice my own total net worth. Jill's instant reply was, "You're no longer seeing this girl, right?" Which made me feel really good.

In addition to these two, everybody on the jury knew me, saw that I was taking really detailed notes throughout the trial. Furthermore, they knew from voir dire that I was entering law school at the end of this month. I was well liked on the jury, and when Jill nominated me as foreman of the jury when we finally convened to deliberate at 4pm on Friday, there was no objection at all. At that point, nobody knew at all what anybody's opinion was on the case.

I thought it blindingly obvious that the plaintiff was in the right. Her lawyers won on the flow with no doubt. In fact, I was hatching schemes to prolong my moment in the sun. So I first called for a secret ballot on the trial, and was shocked that the jury was split 6-6. As soon as that shock wore off, I immediately thought to myself "Plaintiff has to win by 9-3, which means that the defense has to have only 4 votes. This could be over right now, but with the wrong verdict!"

So we started to talk out the issues in the case, and the lines were drawn. I was on the plaintiff's side, and joining me was Jill. She'd kept notes as well as I had, which worked to our benefit because we were not allowed to see any of the trial transcripts during deliberation, which meant that she and I became the de facto trial transcripts. Also on my side was an elderly black woman who had fought and lost one of the first housing discrimination cases in St Louis in the early 70's. I also had this one girl, Milla, who had spent the trial picking at her nails.

Against me and for the defense were Juror 23, a lady in her late 30's/early 40's whom I really wanted to fuck. Dark hair, pale skin, nice and thin, and age hadn't really fucked with her face. Her dad had worked in personnel, and since this case was really about Little Old Lady vs.the HR dept of SSD, she was adamantly pro-defense. Also against me was Skeeve, classic white trash with teased hair and a fondness for Stephen King books. A smoker, we had bonded, me using my adolescent love of SK and my more mature love of Carrie and The Shining. Third in the rogue's gallery (which the plaintiff later told me he called "The Bad Guys") was King Shit, a fat, ugly-glasses-wearing douchebag manager of a real estate office. A real ass, he had, late in the week, realized that I was the Happy Center of the Universe and had finally pulled the cellphone from his ear and started trying to hang out with me in the jury room.

The last and most heartbreaking member of the Gang of Four was Jack, who felt just as strongly as I did, but in favor of the defense.

So we started discussing the case and things got pretty hot pretty fast. The jury room is very small, and there isn't room around the table for everybody to sit. I took my place not at the head of the table but in the middle (trick bitch). It's a very claustrophobic environment, and people in the room had very definite opinions about the case.

I made several strong points on the case, and even did some great speechifying. My best early line was a story I told about when LOL first went to testify. I said that I thought that it was going to be an embarrassment, that she would talk slowly and slur her words and that it would be generally painful to hear her speak. But then I was surprised when she started talking and was intelligent and even eloquent. I, I said, had been prejudiced and had in my own way discriminated against her, so I could easily see how the SSD did as well. I thought that a great point, and it got near universal agreement from the table, people saying how they had the same expectation and surprise.

I also got a little heated during a discussion about, well, the SSD "stabbing (her) in the back," which got some of its heat, I suspect, not from my passion for the case, but rather from a certain backstabbing related program activity which took place recently. I heard several "Calm downs" and ultimately spilled water on some of the evidence that had been brought in. I slumped in my chair a little and felt generally low about my abilities as foreman, much less as advocate/Henry-Fonda-in-12-Angry-Men.

But I pulled myself together enough to push on. I let other people talk, a tactic which paid off, because the elderly black woman, Jill, and Milla started making solid points in agreement with me, and I heard more than a couple "Like Matt said..." prefaced comments.

Then the real meltdown happened. King Shit had been itching to get into the fight, and he finally started to make his assholic points about the case. He didn’t lack conviction, and his points, copped straight from the defense's bullshit lines, could have weight in the room. Furthermore, he started acting more obnoxious about procedural matters, arguing against secret ballots and demanding that people who'd switched their opinion out themselves and give their reasons, something which I did not allow to happen. But he must have seen the writing on the wall, because the votes, which were complex and multi-part, started to trend towards me.

And he could have none of that, so he started making some obnoxious "fuck the old bitch" point, and I started to retort. He immediately began talking over me. I said

"I've listened to your points, would you please let me have my say."

And I began to speak, and again he interrupted. "Would you please let me finish?" Murmurs began to come from the rest of the panel.

I began again, and within three words he interrupted. A chorus of voices joined mine in asking for him to please let me have my say. I began again and again he interrupted, prompting another and newly stern

"Would you please let me finish my point."
"Why don't you actually finish making your point, Matt, instead of asking if I'll let you finish speaking."

No, you jizzmopper. I was particularly incensed at the cheap shot and the use of my name. I stopped speaking immediately, took a deep breath, turned away from him so that I could no longer see him and calmly made my point, uninterrupted in an atmosphere of anxious quiet, to the half of the room that he was not sitting in. He stood up and began pacing in the two feet of room available for angry pacing.

I called for another secret ballot. This time the ballot showed 7-5 in favor of LOL, and immediately after that vote was tallied, one of the jurors expressed a weak desire to switch to LOL. But we had pretty much exhausted our substantive debate and were collectively at a loss as to how to proceed from here. King Shit at this point began to understand that he couldn't win by being an ass and started making jokes to try to lighten the mood of the room. Angry, decidedly unfunny jokes that at first found polite chuckles which
escalated to indifference.

We asked the judge to let us go out to dinner, and she quickly agreed. It helped that my note hilighted the fact that there were three diabetic jurors, apparently, as she preceded her dismissal of us with a short comment about how she knew several diabetics and was well aware of the need to keep on a regular eating schedule. Now, perhaps it would have been nice for the court to pick up our dinner tab, but I think we were all grateful to get out of that tiny, poorly air-conditioned room.

Outside, I began smoking with the smoking crew, which meant smoking with Jack and Skeeve, both of whom were strongly for the defense. Queerly, King Shit also hung around us and accompanied us to dinner. We wandered around Clayton for a time, trying to find a place that hadn't closed. Jack finally said that he would catch up with us later, saying that he was going to get some gin and Burger King.

Nobody talked about the case throughout the walk and dinner. King Shit was, as always, glued to his cellphone. As we sat down to eat at a bbq joint, I ordered a diet pepsi and KS said, "I'll have what my older brother is having." What a fucking freak.

Dinner proceeded pretty quietly, some small chitchat was exchanged. Shit asked me what kind of law I was going to study. I told him I was interested in IP, but that I would only really want to be an academic in that discipline. I also told him that I was interested in politics, not as a politician, but as somebody who maybe worked around it, in campaigns or the like. Dinner came to a close, and I stood up to go to the bathroom.

I was still pretty shaken at having lost my cool and at the whole "let me finish" incident, so all I could think of during my trip to pee was The Hustler, how Jackie Gleason washed his hands and came back ready to shoot pool, "all pink and powdered like a baby." Having found my zen calm, I walked back with the others to the courtroom.

Inside, Jill handed me a jury information pamphlet which said that, in a civil case, jurors need be convinced to a standard of "more likely than not" as opposed to the reasonable doubt standard. She suggested that I use that when we began deliberating again.

As soon as the other jurors filed in, though, Jack raised his hand. He suggested that he would be amenable to a decision that would award LOL all the back pay but that gave nothing in terms of emotional or punitive awards. I thought that was fucking fantastic. We bitched about that a little, the Gang of (now) Three arguing that even the back pay award would be punitive to the school district. As that argument waned, Jill pushed the pamphlet to me and I began that tactic, asking each juror to state to what degree of certainty they held their conviction.

Jack went first and laughed as he said, "let me put it this way, if we want to start talking about punitive damages, I'll go back to arguing very strongly that the school district was not at fault." I said "that's fair" and moved on to King Shit, sitting beside him.

"There's no doubt whatsoever in your mind?"
"Ok, but I will say that I find it a little difficult to accept that. I mean, I'm 100% certain that the sun will rise tomorrow, but in matters of human interaction, I don't think it's possible to ever be 100% certain. I mean, you're saying that you're as sure that the school district was right as I am that this pen" which I held out to my side "will fall to the table when I drop it."

This line elicited some laughter from the other jurors.

"OK, Matt, so tell me how certain you are."
I looked up at the ceiling for a few moments and finally said "80-20"

Having given cockmonkey his time, we proceeded around the table, the other jurors occasionally having to tell King Shit to shut the fuck up and let somebody else have their say. When we got to the 40 year old I really wanted to bend over the jury table, she became the second to say 100%, which shocked me because I thought she was at least somewhat reasonable. Then again, I think I tend to look upon those in whom I have sexual interest with wishful (and very not safe for work) eyes. So I pulled out my best Clinton line, "I respect the strength of your conviction" and moved on down the line. The third 100% came from Skeeve, card-carrying Gang of Three-er. King Shit, throughout all of this, was writing down everybody's opinion in his juror notebook.

We finished giving our percentages and began discussing the compromise that Jack had brought to the table. King Shit immediately piped up with, "I don't see why we should give in on this. I mean, we're split 6-6 and the people who believe the school district feel more strongly about this than the LOL supporters." And he spat out his filthy averages of certitude.

I'm thinking at this point, "Oh no, douche, you don't get to win this because you idiots know how to sulk." But I said, "Shit, I am not interested in getting into a battle with you over these numbers" a sentiment which, judging by the murmurs around the table, I did not hold alone, "but I would like to clear up one point. We were 6-6 when we walked into this room, but the results of the last ballot were 7-5 in favor of LOL." And we moved on to hash out the compromise.

Again, King Shit throws up the 6-6/strong conviction line. I ask him what the sum of the LOL supporters vs the SSD supporters is, hoping that I could whip out a "I've suddenly reached 100% certainty" line, but my 40 points weren't enough to swing it and I let his little outburst die as the conversation continued.

For yet a third time, Shitto pulls out the 6-6/conviction bullshit, and I had to deal with this for real. So I flip to the last ballot results in my notebook. Now, when we had voted, we had voted on each of the individual questions in our jury instructions, which broke down the debate into 5 areas, at least one of which was a gimme (did the school district not give LOL job x). These issues started with question 3 (questions 1 and 2 were even worse gimmes).

"Ok, Shit, let's look at the results of the last ballot we took. Now, remember that our first ballot showed an even 6-6 split. Here's the result of our last ballot. On question 3, 7-5 in favor of LOL. On question 4, 7-5 in favor of LOL. On question 5, 7-5 in favor of LOL. On question 6, 8(emphasized)-4 in favor of LOL. On question 7, 7-5 in favor of LOL." This shut him up.

One of my semi-conscious moves throughout the balloting process was to frame votes as being, if for the plaintiff, "Yes, (LOL‘s first name), Agree," and if for defense, "No, SSD, Disagree."

So we continued with the compromise. I didn't have to say much, because the "like Matt says" coalition made the case very eloquently that LOL deserved an award for emotional damage and for punitive. I was happy to let the old black lady make that case for me.

King Shit realizes at this point that he's losing badly. So, ever the one to bring minor league bullshit to the Big Show, he tosses out, "What if we only awarded her one year of back pay." Which would have been 16,000 dollars. That fucking punk.

"Shit, if you want to go down that path, then I will gladly argue the rest of the night, all of tomorrow, to Monday and for the rest of next week that LOL deserves every dime of the $200,000 in combined emotional and punitive awards."

He was being an asshole and it was greatly rewarding to fuck him like an asshole.

By now it's 9 o clock, so we've been in deliberation for about 5 hours (minus 1 hour of dinner, but that really has to be considered part of the process, as well). I have read the verdict sheet time and time again, and finally say that I am going to write down "Plaintiff LOL" on the verdict line, "54,888.82" on the first damages line, and "none" on the second damages line. Jill urges me to make plain my support for this compromise. Before I can, though, King Shit has one more line to try.

"If you sign that then you're saying that the school district discriminated against...."

"Shit, if I sign this form, then I'm lying, because I don't believe that the second line should be zero. I believe, just as strongly as you believe the district's not at fault, that this line should read $200,000. But I am willing to put my signature on the verdict with only 55 thousand dollars. Now, this form says what it says, and there's no more debating what any of it means. Whether or not you sign this is a matter for your own conscience."

That line got my second set of laughs from the jurors. Which I didn't understand, but,

"Now, I'm going to fill out this form. We have to do this by a show of hands. Who will sign this piece of paper?"

Eight hands go up, finally a ninth. I fill out the form, sign it, and pass it to my left. As it makes its way around the room, Shit again bursts forth with, "I hope you all know that when you sign that verdict, you're saying that..." only to be met with "shut ups" from around the room. I keep my eyes down, because I want nothing more than to really lay into this asswipe. The old black lady to my left says, quietly to me as King Shit continues tirading, "oh, give it up already." Nine signatures later, I tell the bailiff we have a verdict.

I immediately walk up to Jack and say, "Thank you very much" as I vigorously shake his hand. He laughs and says, "No, thank you."

15 minutes later the bailiff escorts us down the hall towards the courtroom, only to stop halfway and tell us to turn back. We'd wait for another 15 minutes before actually being escorted all the way to the courtroom. I later found out that in this time both sides were swearing to abide by the verdict. It seems they found out that we knew the building would close at 10:30 pm, and there was fear that this would cause us to decide prematurely.

We delivered our verdict, and the defense polled the jury. That was the end of a long, excruciating process, counting out on my fingers that our verdict would stand. It did. At this point, the ninth signatory started crying.

Afterwards, Jill and I talk to the plaintiff, Skeeve and Shit talk to the defense. And they have not very nice things to say. The plaintiff's lawyer catches some of it, and as he comes over he says, "He's really upset, but he's one of those types - you know, he's saying that this is what's wrong with our government and all that."

And I felt a little responsible at this point. During the 30 minutes of post-signature peace, I had heard him call me "Tricky Dick" behind my back. As usual, he chose the wrong nickname. I won that battle by having been nice to everybody for five days, by being calm, by being mature, by respecting other peoples' opinions and achieving consensus through compromise. So, if King Shit had an ounce of intelligence, he would've called me "Slick Willie," but I takes my compliments as I gets 'em.

So just like at a debate tournament, the winners and their supporters talk about the round, in this case a five day round, and the losers commiserate with their adherents. Suddenly, debate makes a whole lot more sense to me. It's lawyer training.

I found out that the plaintiff's counsel thought I was one of "the Bad Guys." I thought that laughable, because I had to try really hard to give the defense a chance. The first question defense counsel had asked during voir dire was "Who believes that you should hear both sides of a story before making a decision?" I raised my hand and stifled a laugh. Glancing to the plaintiff's counsel, I saw he had raised his hand and had a wry grin on his face.

In retrospect, I realized why they thought I was pro-defense. I hung out with the Gang of Four to smoke, and while I scrupulously avoided eye contact with the plaintiff, I spent a goodly portion of the trial checking out the HR babe whom they'd brought to the table.

She was twentysomething, short black hair, pale skin, vacant blue eyes, cute as all get out. She had these thick muscles in her lower lip that made her look like a steroid-taking pouter. Now, she was also eight months pregnant (making this the case of the little old lady vs the very pregnant woman), but to my eyes that only meant that she had breasts the size of cantaloupes with gigantic fucking nipples. She was almost bursting out of her clothes. She always wore these really short skirts with no stockings, and she'd dangle her shoes off her feet all throughout the trial. One of the defense lawyers was also pretty hot (but wore more clothing). I seriously spent like 50% of the trial, in the words of Hannibal Lecter, imagining scenarios. So they must've translated my constant eye contact with defense support.

Anyway, part of me thinks that I might've been able to get some punitive/emotional out of the jury, but in the end I'm happy with what happened. My parents told me that they were afraid I'd try to ram my opinion down the others' throats, but in truth, I won because I was nice, because I listened to people and cared about them and respected their opinions. Except with that asshole King Shit, who tried to battle King Me and whom I fucked like an asshole. I left him to wipe away the blood and shit with his torn jockey shorts. So to speak.

All in all, a fucking fantastic experience. Jill said (as Ophelia had said a few weeks back) that I will make an amazing lawyer, and when it was all over, I gave her a hug and walked away feeling really fucking good about the whole experience.

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