Why I Will Never Have To Serve on a Jury

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I've been
developing software professionally for close to two decades now.
But many years ago, in a prior life, I attended paralegal school
and then worked several contract jobs in the legal profession as
a paralegal in Houston, Texas. During one of these stints I was
summoned for jury duty. It was my first (and so far, last) trip
to the courthouse in the role of potential juror. Of course, since
I was a contractor getting paid hourly, I would not get paid for
my time (unless you call six dollars a day getting paid), and I
was living paycheck to paycheck. This was just after Pennzoil, with
the help of Texas super-lawyer Joe Jamail, the "King of Torts",
had won its famous case against Texaco (and so made Joe Jamail super-rich).
The trial had lasted for months. So this summons caused me no small

But I needn't
have worried. The big day came, and after finding some convenient
but expensive parking nearby, I went into the courthouse and joined
a large assembly of other potential jurors. Soon I was marched off
as part of a smaller group to a courtroom, and we sat down and listened
while the judge explained, with obvious pride, that Texas was one
of the few states left that still had divorce trials, and those
of us lucky enough to be selected would be listening to a divorce
case. At that point what ran through my head was this:

"I'm sorry
for these two people, that they could not make their marriage work,
and I'm sure they have some legitimate disagreement about property
division that needs to be worked out somehow, but what does that
have to do with me? Why am I being dragged down here, and forced
to miss paying work, in order to spend three days listening to what
essentially amounts to a personal problem between these two strangers?"

At least if
this had been a murder case, I might have been able to rationalize
making a contribution to public safety, but I could see no reason
for me to be dragged into this, and by extension, just about any
other civil case going on that day.

Then one of
the lawyers starting asking questions of the jury pool. The first
one was, "Do you work in the legal profession or have you ever
had any formal legal training?" As I raised my hand, I also
breathed a sigh of relief. Of course! You don't want someone who
actually knows something about the law on the jury! Duh! I knew
I had nothing to worry about beyond the missed morning of work,
and in less than an hour, I was free to go.

I have never
been summoned for jury duty since. I like to think that the powers
that be recognize that this is a waste of time on everyone's part,
but I'm sure that the system just hasn't been able to catch up with
me since due to some moving around, and eventually I will get the
dreaded summons. I will then go down to the courthouse and waste
another couple of hours plus the cost of gas and parking again.
But it is now even less likely that I would be picked for jury duty
than that morning twenty years ago. Here is a complete list of things
about me that virtually preclude any lawyer with half a brain who
is on the wrong side of a lawsuit from allowing me to be on his
jury. And in most civil cases, there is usually someone pretty obviously
on the wrong side, but our legal system treats them all the same.
Some of these are more important than others, but I've thrown everything
on here, just for good measure.

  • I am educated
    (college degree plus some graduate work).
  • I am middle
  • I am self-employed.
  • I am an
  • I have been
    the target of two frivolous lawsuits (one professional and one
  • I have legal
  • I have legal
    work experience.
  • I am a libertarian.
  • I believe
    the legal system in this country is a farce, and am not afraid
    to say so.

Of course,
all of these facts are precisely why I would make a good juror,
not a bad one. No, I'm not volunteering, just pointing out that
in our cockamamie upside down horrowshow of a legal system, it's
always opposite day, and one side (if not both) of a civil case
will always want the least educated and most gullible jurors possible.
So that excludes me. But that suits me fine, and I make no apologies
for it.

The legal
system in this country is a farce.

That's what
I said. Just consider the nonsense of the Anna Nicole Smith case.
Remember the circus in Florida? Trust me, Judge Larry Seidlin's
courtroom is not an exception, like some far quarter of the universe
where the known laws of physics do not apply. I've been in the courtroom
where there were no celebrities and no cameras, and believe me,
it's just as much of a circus. But it all makes sense once you realize
that the purpose of the system is not to efficiently and fairly
resolve disputes, but to make lots and lots of work for lawyers
and judges (lawyers in robes). This is a subject way beyond what
I am prepared to write today, and many others have written extensively
on it. But the next time you see a civil case courtroom proceeding
on TV, ask yourself these questions:

  • Why do the
    lawyers talk so slow?
  • Why do the
    lawyers ask so many questions, many of which seem irrelevant?
  • Why do the
    lawyers often repeat the same question, with slightly different
  • Why are
    there so many motions and counter motions?
  • Why are
    lawyers able to charge hundreds of dollars per hour, while jurors
    are forced to miss work and given a few dollars a day?
  • Why do so
    many lawsuits just seem to breed new lawsuits?
  • Do twelve
    people need to spend several days or weeks listening to this to
    arrive at a verdict?
  • Is this
    a dispute that could somehow be resolved more quickly and cheaper?
  • If I had
    a dispute to resolve, would I want to go through this?

The Anna Nicole
Smith case is a lawyer's wet dream. Every week there's a new spin-off
lawsuit. It's the gift to the legal industry that just keeps on

(As an aside,
last year the most read article on LRC was about fascism. I am hoping
that by mentioning Anna Nicole Smith, I will catapult my own article
to the top of the list this year. But just to hedge my bet, I've
also mentioned fascism.)

Well, I don't
have to worry about being sucked into one of these cases. I realize
now that for the really long ones, there must be an unspoken understanding
between all parties that only people who can afford to miss work
for weeks and months (i.e., whose employers are either a government
agency, or a corporation large enough that it can stand being ripped
off like that) will be chosen. But long or short, it's unlikely
I'll ever be sitting in the jury box to see who should get what
from the Anna Nicole Smith estate. In the end, a lot of it is going
to lawyers anyway.

Short of going
to paralegal or law school yourself, or getting convicted of a felony
(an easy option in our society today!), what can you do to avoid
jury duty? Perhaps you can take a cue from a colleague of mine who
was faced with this problem a few years ago. Remember, for those
of you who are just a little clever, there is almost always going
to be an opportunity to let the involved lawyers know what a bad
(good) juror you would be. My friend was being considered for a
lawsuit against a railroad. The suit was being brought by the estate
of the deceased, a gentleman who, presumably being in a hurry, decided
to ignore the lowered gates and warning bells at a crossing, and
to his detriment found out what happens when train meets car. Assisting
the estate was a lawyer my friend described as having "an Al
Sharpton haircut." The lawyer asked if anyone in the juror
pool didn't believe a life was worth one million dollars, to which
my friend pointed out, his own life insurance was only for 750 thousand
dollars, so he might have a problem with that statement. Needless
to say, he was not selected. (But just to make sure, he asked the
judge why the case was being tried in Houston, when the accident
had occurred elsewhere, and the deceased did not live in Houston,
nor was the defendant headquartered there. Always best to pile it

In a free society,
it would not take a week and tens of thousands of dollars in legal
fees (not to mention taxpayers' money) to resolve simple disputes,
nor months and millions to resolve more complex ones. Or even, as
in the dispute central to the Anna Nicole Smith case, years. Uh,
make that decades.

Good luck skirting
jury duty.

11, 2007

Foye [send him mail] is
an independent software developer living in Austin, Texas.

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