Duty to the State of New York


Greetings. I was away for a couple days because I was serving jury duty. Like many of you, I suspect, I have mixed feelings when I get called for jury duty. On the one hand I feel a strong civic obligation. On the other, I feel the tug of all my professional responsibilities. And in this case in particular I was anxious because we’d just relaunched the site. So I felt particularly pained and uncomfortable not being around when we were getting the new set up up and running, since so much of it is new and different from what we’ve done before.

The only jury I’ve ever served on was one in Washington, DC about four years ago. It was a fairly straightforward drug sale at an open air drug market, cigarettes dipped in PCP, two charges. I think I was one of one or two jurors who wasn’t willing to convict on the first round. And we ended up convicting on one count (possession) and acquitting on the other (sale). There’s a certain illogic to the combination, I grant you. But in the particular set of factual findings we had to make there was a logic to it.

In the everyday sense of reasoning it was fairly clear the defendant was guilty. But it was also clear that several key facts the police claimed had happened could not have happened — it came down to pretty straightforward physics that even I can understand, like people not being able to see through buildings. There was the backdrop of the draconian punishments for small time drug crimes. But I set that aside as I was instructed to. But I could not see convicting the kid when it was clear that two of the central fact witnesses for the prosecution lied about key details to make the case stronger. We, the jury, argued for some time and decided to acquit on one count and convict on another where there was physical evidence that appeared impossible to dispute.

In any case, this time — back to the present — I was nervous about getting impanelled for the reasons I’ve described above and I had this and that person tell me their bright idea about how to get oneself knocked out of contention in the jury selection process. So I showed up yesterday morning, waited, didn’t get called, didn’t get called, then finally got called with twelve other perspective jurors down to the civil branch on the third floor.

We were escorted into a spacious and well-lighted closet for the voir dire process. One of the two attorneys, a snappily dressed man, began describing the case to us. And it became clear it was a medical malpractice claim. He gave us a brief thumbnail description of the case. And it occurred to me that having married into a family of doctors probably wouldn’t make me a particularly attractive candidate. Then the defense attorney began discussing the case and in passing told us her client’s name, the defendant.

And I’d gone to college with him. That’s a decent number of years ago now. But not a common name, the right kind of doctor, the right location. Obviously him. And not just a name I remembered, but a friend, if one I haven’t seen or heard of in going on twenty years. My hand popped up. “I think I know one of the parties to the case.” At which I drew a bunch of sharp stares like I’d just popped a balloon. And that pretty much was the end of my jury duty this time.

I got sent back to the waiting pond, came back this morning and got my walking papers at lunch.