Politics, Community & Society > San Diego Jury Duty

San Diego Jury Duty

By GREG MAFFETT
Published: July 11, 2011

I started writing this the night before my first trip to jury duty. Due to a variety of life skills and jobs, I'd avoided this experience in the 3 and a half decades since I turned 18. But the city of San Diego finally tracked me down. I postponed it once, but I'm not in the classroom this week, so I had no excuse. Well, no honest excuse anyway. So here is the preamble...

I'll be hanging out with the underbelly of America in a number of ways. I don't know if I'll be impaneled on a jury, but if so, I'll be dealing with a problem child. If its a criminal case, then an alleged criminal. If it's a civil case, then a couple people who just can't agree. Either way, troubled citizens.

But before I get to them, I deal with the legal profession. Typically, lawyers are rated in the bottom 3 of the least respected professions in America. And for good reason. They contribute nothing. They move money from party A to party B while stripping off some for themselves. In this regard they are mired with congressmen and used car salesmen at the bottom of the heap.

There are roughly 1.5 million lawyers in America who extract an average salary of $125,000 a year from the economy while returning nothing of value. They don't build cars, or buildings or iPhones, they just write the annoying terms of service that you don't read and agree to before downloading an app. On a per capita basis, the US has 6 times the lawyers as Japan. If you run the numbers out and round up a bit, the US economy pays roughly $200 Billion a year to keep lawyers in three piece suits. That is just the lawyers themselves. Add in the rest of the cost of the legal firms, the paralegals and secretaries and so on and it doesn't take long to double that number. Easily the direct costs that the US Department of Defense contracts for a in a year.

Now granted, some may argue that the $400 Billion the Department of Defense spends each year is of no value. But the people who make that argument tend to think that the recent termination of Osama Bin Laden was a bad idea. These people also have a hard time seeing the connection between the SUV they drive and the US Military ensuring that the supply line for fuel stays open.

On an economic ground, I can also make the argument that without the US military the US dollar would not be the world's reserve currency and that alone would drop the US standard of living by 3% across the board. Just saying, I can make arguments for having military. And by and large, America agrees with me on this point. The military are in the top ten most respected professions.

My point being, I'm dropping down from a respected job, teaching the US Military, to crawling around in the underbelly of America. Based on reports from other jurors, my time will be completely wasted by an inefficient bureaucracy. And I'll have lawyers who are 3/4 as smart as me arguing over the fate of some guy half as smart as me who committed a not well planned out crime. The few interesting crimes are carried out by high end psychotics. There just aren't enough of them to go around, so you end up with a guy who bought a $50 gun that doesn't work and uses it to hold up a bodega for $127, then you take 10 productive citizens, a raft of lawyers and spend tens of thousands of dollars to validate the obvious.

There are roughly 150,000 jury trials a year in the USA, meaning roughly 1.5 Million people sit on juries a year. Oddly enough, about the number of lawyers there are in America. Using the Japanese model, we could reduce the lawyers to 250,000 and likewise reduce the jurors to the same number. That would free up 1.25 Million Americans to do something of value with their time rather than scuff around in the gallows.

So if we get rid of the lawyers, how do we decide things? Well the Japanese method is pretty simple. If you get arrested in Japan, you are 99% sure you will be convicted. Not a bad start. Here if you get arrested a lot depends on how good of a defense team you hire. Up in Los Angeles, it is nearly impossible to convict a celebrity under the current system.

So what to do? There are numerous other ways.

For the civil cases, binding arbitration can get those off the docket. As to the criminal cases, just grab a marble out of a bag. Red means convict, green means release. Put 100 marbles in the bag, 99 of them red.

Huge, huge savings to society...

So that was my preamble to Jury Duty. Monday came and I was off in search of Jury Duty. The courthouse is only about 4 miles from my house. Close enough to ride my bike, but I drove my car because it is in a bad part of town and it is easier to steal a bike than a car. I got lucky and found free street parking at Broadway and 14th. Granted it was only street parking if you had Manhattan level parking skills, but I do.

The 15 block walk to the courthouse passed a good portion of the city's homeless population going through their daily rituals of begging and worshipping imaginary deities. As I passed the courthouse I saw the early morning line that looked much like the homeless people I just passed. A sheriff happened out and said "Jury duty is in the hall of justice next door"

I got in to the hall without much of line. It was good that I brought a backpack as there was the ritual airport type metal screening and being able to toss everything into the bag made the in and out easier.

There were I think 400-500 people called for jury duty. The room was packed. I sat next to a lady in her 60's who said she never had jury duty either. Her excuse is that she was a professional golfer and was on tour her adult life. Interesting, pro athletes get to dodge jury duty. There was a TV on in the room and they were showing the Hollywood crowd out and about. I expect they got a similar pass as they were always...on location or in rehab.

The deputy Jury commissioner came out and explained the rules. The trial would run 3-7 days. If we couldn't be there we'd have to reschedule. I was scheduled to fly east the following Monday, but I was pretty sure I wouldn't get picked, so it was a lottery play. Figured I'd sit through the day and get my year exemption if I was not selected. I figured being ex-military and being on two courts martials may have been enough to keep me out. And then I had the fact that I do teach some contract law in my courses.

They played an "It's great to be a Juror" video and for a moment I get the "Oh, wow, I really am a citizen" flash. But that was quickly overturned. In addition to the normal short trial, they had a long trial and a very long trial. I tried to opt out of that by listing on my form that I was a professor teaching back east two of the next three weeks. Since you could opt out if you were a college student, surely they would let a professor off?

Of course not. I was summoned to the Jury selection people to be told that my teaching was not a plausible excuse. Great, an undergrad studying basket-weaving gets a pass, a pro golfer get a pass. A prof doing his job on the road, no pass.

I knew I'd run into an 80 IQ knuckledragger at some point, didn't take long. So I was going to waste my day at the hall of justice. Once they go over the intro and the video, it is a sit around and wait deal. They call 20-30 names at a time and those people go off to be interviewed. I wasn't called in the AM so I got released to lunch.

Headed out and grabbed a beer and some light food. I debated on the beer, but I figured that drunks are just as entitled to a jury of their peers as anyone else.

When I got back I started to think over the demographics. only 48% of San Diego is white, I'd say 84% of the juror's were white. The only group that was representative were Asians. They were 10% of the room and 10% of the local population. San Diego is 5% African American, less than 2% of the room met that criteria. But the big gap was Hispanic. 30% of the population, about 4% of the room. Wow, took me a while to puzzle that out.

At first my thought was that those under represented groups were over represented as defendants and this was simply "white man's rule." But then I remembered one of the excuses "English". Non English speakers get a pass. So...here you have it. Everyone pushing for the "bilingual" or multilingual approach to life runs into a big, big problem here. Trials are in English. I have no idea how the 25% of San Diego that doesn't speak English get a jury of their peers. I suspect the answer sounds a lot like "oh well".

It is even more perverse as English truly is becoming the world language due to our presence in business and even more perversely, Microsoft and the Internet. It may be that The USA ends up with one of the most significant non-English speaking populations as the world evolves.

The other diversity thought that I had was this. Races really are going to be a thing of the past. I suspect that 2,000-3,000 years from now we'll be done with races. Silly attempts life busing to force integration are doomed to failure. People, not governments, will solve the problem in the bedroom, not congress or the courtrooms.

The 500 or so who started dwindled down to about 50 in the big room. At about 2:45 they came over the loud speaker and said anyone not picked was not needed and we had fulfilled our day.

I don't know why I wasn't even interviewed. But I think the fact that I circled the "government" block and wrote in the Professor thing may have had something to do with it. There are not many government employees with that job title, and I have to think that may have been my pass in the end.

In the end, I did feel like I missed out by not being called for an interview. Clearly there would have been more content to write about had that occurred. On the other hand, sitting in a government building for the better part of 7 hours reading an economics book wasn't entirely miserable. But it dod little to sway my idea that this process is a huge tax on the citizenry and by and large an unnecessary waste of time.

Any Comments?


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