Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Our "Judicial" System.

I have two very depressing and familiar words for you...


After evading my summons last July when scheduled to be in Orlando for three months I decided to report at 9 a.m. yesterday like a goodly citizen, only to spend a nine hour day listening to and eventually berated by a bunch of court room idiots. Now ok, I didn't want to be there. No one does. I didn't want to be picked. No one does. But I found myself becoming sincerely interested in the case and fervently listening to both the instructions of the judge and the attorneys' questioning of each potential juror, rather than sleep, daze, or read my book (like every single other juror waiting to be questioned.) The case was as follows, and since I left that room classier than anyone else in there, I'll leave names unmentioned:

Plaintiff (woman; mid-forties or so) gets rear ended by two defendants (young girl; mid-twenties, and young man; not present, out of the country...I'm glad that we all have to show up at his hearing, but he doesn't have to). Both defendants have already admitted their liability in causing the accident, but the plaintiff claims that she has "severe, chronic neck pain" and is now suing the aforementioned parties for a "significant sum" in order to pay her medical bills. Not much other information is given us.

Immediately after hearing the few facts of the case, I flashed back to the time when I was 16 and sideswiped an older man, healthy enough to repeatedly yell at me for hitting him, yet hurt enough to be sent to the hospital for "neck pain" and charge my insurance thousands for his ambulance. I then flashed back to the time when I was in second grade and got rear ended with my mom by a semi, crushing the back of our Camry - both of us totally fine, unnecessary health care and lawsuits far from our minds. Hell, I went on to get 3rd place in my spelling bee that day. An 8 year old's gotta be tough.

Point being, I've been on both sides of the fence but can't necessarily relate to someone claiming to be seriously injured after being rear ended. A car flipping, loss of a limb, a paralyzation, a driver or passenger's death - I understand that these things warrant a lawsuit, but a little bit of whip lash? Not so much.

So I started watching the plaintiff. She looked forcefully tired and 'weak,' rubbing her neck every so often for dramatic effect, slouching, asking her lawyer to pour her water for her, making close eye contact with jurors who seemed like they might help her case and getting bored during the questioning of those who seemed like they might side with the defense. In all honesty, she looked like one of those ladies that might come in to Mary's Market and send her salad back three times because "I asked for NO pine nuts, NO feta cheese, dressing ON THE SIDE, and GRAIN bread. You think you can do that??"

"Uhh, so basically you just want some lettuce with a slice of tomato...be right back with that ma'am."

In so many words, yes, I was judging her. I was formulating biases without knowing all of the facts; I was allowing my personal experiences and negative feelings about monetary reparations cloud my view on the case. But isn't that to be expected? I'm an opinionated, conservative college grad who takes her experiences seriously and has grown up with a malpractice-wary dentist father who made me fully aware that people are often conniving and sue-happy. Oh, and I've seen Chicago one too many times not to notice when a party or attorney appeals to the jury for emotional sympathy.

Case in point (pun intended): The prosecutor small-talked with literally every single juror so as to sway them his way before the proceedings even started.

P: "Soo, I see here that you're not originally from Rockford. Where'd you grow up?"
J: "Oh, I uhh actually grew up in the Kansas City area, sir."
P: "Ohh yah, I'm familiar. Beautiful place over there!"
[Yah, like Kansas is beautiful.]
P: "You enjoy that?"
J: "Uhh, yes sir I did."
P: "Well good, good. Glad to hear it, son. So, what are your feelings on Tort Reform?" [smiles]

What with the prosecutor wasting an unlawful amount of time wooing each uneducated dummy (I was one of five people with a college degree) and what with there only being 35 of us to choose from at the start, both parties started running out of options and time. There were only six of us left which made me nervous, my mind was racked and tired from following the questioning, and I felt uncomfortable that the judge kept making awkward eye contact as though he was particularly waiting for my reactions. I guess it must have looked strange that a young girl in the back would be the only one paying attention besides the juror in question, but still...WEIRD.

It was 6 o'clock before I was finally called, and they still needed two jurors. They asked me the usual "Do you know any of the parties involved, do you have a pending claim filed against you, have you ever been a witness, juror, or party in a civil lawsuit, etc. etc.," to all of which I answered "no."

But then it came time to answer whether or not I would have "conceptual" issues in signing a verdict that, if all evidence and abiding law deemed it so, awarded the plaintiff a significant sum of money, to which I was the FIRST person who answered "yes."

Talk about a wrench in their wheels and a fly in their tea.

I respectfully explained the case's similarity to my prior accidents and the naturally biased feelings that those occurrences had caused. I explained that this "significant sum" would depend on the exact amount of its signicance and how, even before hearing any of the facts, I felt that the defendants admission of liability shouldn't deem them responsible for thousands or possibly millions of dollars of medical bills just because health care is expensive.

There, the prosecution shouldn't want me.

I also mentioned that I'd once held an internship with a judge at the court house who once was a prosecutor, possibly for the same private firm as the prosecuting attorneys.

There, the defense shouldn't want me either.

I was 100% honest, figuring that my honesty would be enough for immediate dismissal. I wasn't the best juror for that particular case, and certainly they wouldn't pick me just because they didn't want to hold another jury selection, right? Wrong.

The prosecution certainly did not want me, but my strong feelings against "significant" financial awards made me extremely desirable to the defense, and something about my level of education, my experience in a court room, and the strange way he'd been watching me pay close attention throughout the day made the judge side with the defense in keeping me. And ohhh man did that piss off the prosecutor...

The judge and defense took their time questioning me, each of them 'nice'...nicely passive aggressive in persuading me to put aside my "personal feelings and be fair...Are you sure you have nothing else going on that would make you not want to be here?...My, my it is getting late, isn't it, we should be wrapping this up shouldn't we!" (implying that I should comply and answer how they wanted me to since they were running out of time...as though it was my fault the prosecutor paused in between everything he said and the defense attorney began asking people their favorite color just to look cute, no joke). By the time it was the prosecutor's turn to question me, his suave demeanor had completely changed into a stern grimace which he turned on me with frustration. He began questioning...no, interrogating me on the things I'd said previously, twisting my mention of having biased tendencies toward this particular case into my being incapable of possessing any qualities of fairness whatsoever in my entire being, thus causing me to back peddle on my earlier claim in order to defend myself, for which he attempted to make me feel guilty! He condescended me by asking the same question three different ways just to see if I'd answer differently, mocked my response by chuckling through his repetition of it, literally acted as though I was the one on the stand in front of a grand jury...as though I was the one who had done something wrong. 

He was threatened.
I was flabbergasted, offended, and confused.

Noticing the prosecutor's temper tantrum for not having immediately gotten his way, the judge finally dismissed me from the court room. I felt guilty and embarrassed - the same feeling you get after leaving the principal's office. And I knew I didn't deserve to feel that way. I could feel a migraine coming on, and it took everything in me not to say something derogatory on my way out, so instead I went to the bathroom and just broke down.

After rants of cursing on the phone to my boyfriend, parents, sister, and best friend (I was pissed) I spent my night at home with a bottle of wine, a meatball pizza, mocha java ice cream, and Eat Pray Love.

To think I once wanted to be a lawyer. Psh. If this is how our judicial system is consistently run, there is absolutely no way I'd take part.

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