Here come de jury

A short recess from My 1972

Harry Welty

I went to my second Republican precinct caucus last Tuesday since returning to spread my heresies after a two year flirtation with Democrats in the Obama years followed by a grudging decade in the wilderness. 

Even the woman who dissed my claim to be a Republican in 2020 after I pulled 5% of the vote against Pete Stauber gave me a pleasant hello. Art Johnston shook hands with me. It was a strong indication he didn’t read my last column.  

The GOP hasn’t evolved much beyond the Furries I wrote about two years ago. On the sunnier side my recent experience with jury duty last week gives me hope that behind the Trumpy headlines there is still hope for American democracy.  

Just before Christmas this year I got a jury summons. I was impaneled last Tuesday and Wednesday. Before heading over to the St. Louis Courthouse I blogged about my civic duty. My French pen-pal read my announcement. She sent me a text just before I was about to face the “Voir Dire” interrogation and asked if I was incCourt. I hastily replied that I had to zip my lips until the trial was over and tucked my phone in my pocket. Then the attorneys got to work culling difficult jurors.  

About 22 people came into the courthouse with me. One juror who recognized me assured me that I’d be dismissed. This had occurred to me too. But to start with all of us were called into the court room and briefed by Judge Jill Eichenwald of the Sixth Judicial District about what was to come. When 11 of us were randomly called up I was one of them. This was a question and answer session where each counsel could strike two prospective jurors who seemed unsympathetic.

Seven jurors, not 12, would decide the case. A civil trial was unusual in District Court. No blood had been spilled or felony committed. We would decide who should pay for the repair of a bent $500 bicycle tire. The case was brought to the court on appeal.  

A young attorney represented the driver of a car accused of hitting a bicyclist. The second counsel was the bicyclist himself. He was acting “pro-se” and was defending himself. This saved him a lot of money but I often heard my lawyer Dad repeat the old legal saw “A lawyer who defends himself has a fool for a client.”  This fellow was no fool.  

The 11 of us were handed a “Jury Questionnaire” with 11 questions the last being, “Have you heard or read anything about this case?” We were instructed to answer them all in order and I was the first to give what amounted to a five-minute mini biography. The other 10 did the same.  

Four jurors were struck off perhaps for previous law enforcement work or for strong opinions about there being too many frivolous lawsuits. The attorney, who was new to town, asked me what I meant when I explained that I had taken the Duluth School District to court which addressed a question about our previous experiences with the courts.   

The seven of us who were selected had a little time to size each other up in the jury room while the judge and attorney’s did some paperwork. The lone women among us, a genial and assertive pregnant mother who had asked to be excused momentarily because her digestive system was in a state of rebellion commented that she was sure I’d never be selected. A crusty old vet seconded her. He was the nephew of an old neighbor of mine.

Previously a third juror had introduced himself when we there were still 22 of us. He’s helped out at the Duluth Reader for which I’ve written since 2002. I was not an unknown quantity.  

My past public fist shaking against the Red Plan had not been forgotten. The vet said it had been a dirty deal to deny Duluth the right to vote.  A second juror agreed with him. A third  said it had made him so furious that he had moved with his family out of Duluth so his kids could be in a different school district. His children were some of an estimated 1,500 children to flee Duluth’s schools.  

During a lunch break it may have been me who mentioned the recent Netflix series The Jury. It was like the 1960’s series Candid Camera where innocent bystanders were confronted by anonymous actors doing outrageous things like jumping out of trashcans while hidden cameras recorded their surprised reactions.

The Jury was Candid Camera on steroids. It had dozens of hidden cameras set up all throughout what appeared to be a real courthouse. There were dozens of actors. There was only one innocent. He was a nice fellow who had filled out a form saying he would be willing to be a juror in a real trial that was being recorded for something like public television.  It was laugh out loud funny.

It's only one of the funniest ever sex scenes I’ve ever seen that prevents me from recommending it for family viewing. But it was also a genuine test of the jury system which passed with flying colors despite all the bile Donald Trump is pouring onto it.  

I understand. What else should you expect from a billionaire who beat off 3,500 lawsuits before becoming president with his deep pockets and a harem of lawyers before he attempted to overthrow the government. Now he finds himself in court facing a nation with more money than he has.  

Our jury rendered a fair verdict after a half day of deliberations. We were pleased to learn afterward that the $500 repair of the bicycle wheel by the driver of an SUV is exactly what had been decided in a less formal setting without attorneys a few months earlier.  

This break from “My 1972” will continue for a week or two. Next up, elections that really were tainted: For more of Harry,