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Saturday
Dec062014

Achieving Equality in the Courtroom

             The recent events in Ferguson, Cleveland, and New York City have touched a nerve with the public. I think it is more than police violence against blacks. My guess is that a lot of people are protesting the inequity between the classes and the militarization of the police who deal with the lower classes. After all, we don’t see much police brutality against rich people.

           Demonstrating against police tactics is certainly one form of protest, but let me offer another:  serving on a jury. I know most of us hate getting that little postcard or letter in the mail, calling on us to serve on a jury. Our lives are busy. A call from the government to serve our working day on a jury is always going to be an interruption. I have yet to hear anyone say, “Well, let me see, I have nothing better to do. Thought about a matinee or a trip to Disneyland, but jury service sounds like more fun.”  Nope, it ain’t gonna happen.

           Consider this:  the jury system may be the one chance we have for equality in deciding legal disputes. Even though a rich company might have better dressed lawyers and more vivid charts than a little guy, a jury might be able to see through all that and deliver a just result. While judges usually try to be fair, you are dealing with one person who have personal biases. When you go to arbitration as an individual, you may face some prejudice because the arbitrators, who depend on repeat business, may try to appease a corporate party who could use their services over and over again. Juries usually sit for one case involving a party. When that case is over, the jurors are done. No matter how they decide, the jurors are not under the influence of any one party. 

               A judge in Orange County reminds potential jurors of their civic duty:

“Jury trials come at a price.  They’re important.  They’re how our system of law functions. 

People from the community, people just like everyone of you come in, hear a dispute, make a decision, determine what the facts are and apply the law that I give you to the facts, and the case is resolved.

That’s the system that we in this country are devoted to.  It only works when we get a good cross-section of the community to come in and be a jury. It doesn’t work if we take only retired people my age and older. It doesn’t work if we only take students.  It requires that we have corporate executives, and students and retired people and doctors, lawyers, Indian Chiefs, plumbers, electricians, construction workers, people from the community who hear their fellow citizens’ complaints and make a decision.” Judge Andrew P. Banks 

It’s something to think about when you find a notice for jury duty in the mail. I know we would rather be doing other things, but as the judge says, “[T]he only way the system works is when we all step up to the plate and make the sacrifice that serving on a jury requires.  It’s the only duty of your citizenship.”