Lawyers Hate Philosophers: A Proposal for a New System of Jury Duty


Lawyers hate philosophers, especially two-bit ones. I've always had this suspicion, but now I know it's true. I was recently summoned to the Kings County Supreme Courthouse to serve on jury duty. It's basically a huge pain in the ass, and there is a much better way to ensure justice for all; I have outlined such a proposal in this column. This is a long ride, but I think you'll enjoy the scenery. And if you don't, you can always puke in the aisle.

First off, you know you don't want to be there (unless you have the luxury of being guilt-free from taking a mini-vacation from work,) and they know you don't want to be there. But they keep you there, waiting, in a large room, listening for your name to be called over the loud speaker, praying not to hear it, thinking: let there be an administrative foul-up, let there be human error, it must happen all the time, people fall through the cracks, it's a large city with millions of people in it, people people people everywhere, anyone who's ever been on the subway at rush hour knows that, it can't be avoided, I'll be the lucky one to make it through unscathed, like Shirley Jackson's Lottery, like the last call at Auschwitz.

Then you hear it. And they cart you off to some room, where a judge tells you about how there are no more exemptions, not for judges, not for lawyers, not for anybody. Well, I didn't see ONE fucking celebrity there, not one. Is this person serious? Is he trying to tell me Rosie Perez can't get out of jury duty? Where the fuck was Rosie Perez? Where?

Before that, during orientation, they make an announcement, in American English, that anyone who doesn't understand English should form a line at the front of the room. And about 30% of the room gets up and starts forming a line. If they can't understand English, how did they know to get up? And knowing that 30% of Brooklyn residents don't think they understand English is hardly a comforting fact, let me tell you.

They called me for a Murder One case. The judge begins by asking general questions to the pool of about 50 potential jurors. Questions like, Does anyone know the defendant? Does anyone know the lawyers? Has anyone's family members/friends ever been murdered? It was tempting at this point to raise my hand and lie and say my uncle was murdered a few years back, as I saw them release people who did say this. But the anxiety is great: you don't want to make it seem like you don't want to serve, especially in front of all these people. So I sat on my hands until the initial questioning was finished. Then they put the names in an actual hopper and pull 'em out. I'm first. As I walk to the juror box, I figure the lawyers want someone decisive on a murder case...that's where my two-bit philosophy comes in. The lawyer-leeches and the judge start talking about how witnesses may become emotional and how as jurors we would have to be able to separate the facts of the case from the emotion involved.

Mr. Marcopolos, the prosecution lawyer with his new suit sparking and face squeaky clean said, because that's my name, will you be able to do this?

I will certainly try, I said, heart pounding, feeling 55 sets of eyes on me.

What do you mean, you will try? Will you be able to do it, or won't you?

I'm not absolutely sure.

Why not?

Well, first off, sir, it's a difficult thing to do. Secondly, you're asking me to predict my actions at a future moment. Since I have not been in that moment yet, it's impossible for me to say how I will react at that moment. But as I said, I can try.

You bet they didn't want me on that jury. Lawyers hate philosophers. Next, they put me in a pool of potential jurors for a civil case. I noticed one of the lawyers paying close attention to the Voir Dire (French for To see them say) Questionnaires we had to fill out. So while waiting, I started doodling little truths on the back of the form like, Frivolous Lawsuits are Tearing the Fabric of Society, and Ambulance Chasers are Wasting Taxpayer Money. When I was called to the front, I answered all the questions truthfully; the lawyers deliberated, taking the questionnaires with them. You know I was nervous as hell, wondering if I'd be admonished for my social-conscious artwork. But surprise, surprise, they didn't want me on that jury either.

So, I was able to get out of a lengthy jury stay while maintaining some semblance of a good conscious. But most are not so fortunate. It's time for a major overhaul.

The system currently in operation is archaic, designed at a time when the population of the country was far less than it is today. The fact that this system is still in place is absolutely ridiculous. Of course, the concept that individuals charged with a crime should be guaranteed the right to trial by jury and that that jury should be comprised of citizens of the community, a jury of his peers, is unquestionable. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't consider an alternative to this anachronistic system.

We can easily kill two societal birds with one logic stone. While unemployment is currently very low, there are still thousands of people dying to get a job. We take all the folks who've been on the rolls longer than 2 months, put them in a 2-week training course, and then hire all of them as professional jurors. That way, instead of the state paying people to sit on their asses and do nothing, it pays them to perform a vital function in society. If a person on unemployment does not want to be a juror, this will provide great inspiration for that person to find alternate employment. For those who wish to continue to look for another job, there should be a rotating call, so that a juror would serve 2 or 3 days a week, allowing the rest of the week for the employment search. We also open these employment opportunities to anyone who would care to apply for them. This would still comprise a cross-section of society, and with 2 weeks of training there should be no doubt as to their ability to judge the facts of a case. In addition to this pool, when the case warrants, the next group of citizens who should be called are senior citizens. Here's a chunk of society who have accumulated a lifetime of wisdom, experience, and knowledge with which to apply to a case's arguments AND they have nothing better to do with their time.

If the lawyer-leaches still cannot get a satisfactory jury after these two resources have been exhausted, then you call in the rest of the citizenry, as we do now. This would significantly reduce the amount of time and money wasted on jury duty, while virtually eliminating unemployment AND filling the days of our senior citizens with the satisfaction of having applied their life's wisdom to the American judicial system, rather than on the deaf ears of their grandchildren.

This whole thing seems blatantly obvious to me, but then again, I'm a man of staggering genius. Either that or I'm a man of staggering bitterness and extreme social phobia who'd rather come up with some cockamamie social plan rather than have to face the fact that he's got to serve on jury duty. Whichever, I still think this is the best solution to a nagging social problem. And if you think there isn't a problem with the system, ask the families of Nicole Brown Simpson, Ronald Goldman, and Amadou Diallo, to name a few of the victims who have been fucked in the ass by juries all across this land without even the common courtesy of a reach-around.