Sunday, February 27, 2011

Tough Call

Mar 4, 2010

So this past Monday I had to go to jury duty.  I don't mind it like other people.  I have stood before a very unfair judge once, and would hope if I ever stood before a jury that they would be fair to me.  I am not happy about our legal system.  Yes, it is better than a lot of country's legal systems, but it is far from fair.  But, the safety net in our system is the trial by a jury of your peers.  I am very thankful for that. 

When I showed up for jury duty on Monday, I realized I had to go to a new courthouse building.  The new one was built on the other side of the street from the old one.  At least I got to park at the same parking garage.  Jury duty was a lot more efficent that the last time I got called.  At least the chairs where better in this building than the old one.

I was in the first group that got called.  There were 30 of us called, and we headed to the sixth floor.  Then another 30 potenial jurors came in behind us.  And then, you guessed it, another 30 potenial jurors.  So there are a lot of lawyers in front of us, and 90 potenial jurors.  I suddenly realized that this was not a typical case. 

The judge then came in, and explained that this was a civil case, and not a criminal case.  He then said that the case would take approximately two weeks.  The plantiff Mr. Douglas was sueing R.J. Reynolds, Phillip Morris, and Ligget tobacco companies.  His wife Mrs. Douglas died of lung cancer and COPD from smoking cigerettes.  I knew this was going to be a tough call.  That's why so many potenial jurors were called.

There were lots of questions to ask, and the prosecution got to ask first.

1.  Was this going to cause a hardship for anyone?  The judge let about 15-20 people go because it would produce a hardship for them.
2.  Did anyone feel that Mrs. Douglas was 100% responible for her own behavior?  A lot of people raised their hands.
3.  Did anyone think they could not be fair?  A good number raised their hands.
4.  Would the trial lasting 2 weeks be an incovenence for anyone?  Some said they couldn't be there for 2 weeks.
5.  Was anyone a current smoker, former smoker, or had friends or family that smoked?  They went person by person, and that took a while.
6.  Did anyone ever have a relative die of cancer or COPD?  Some had.
7.  Had we ever seen or heard about a tobacco lawsuit on TV?  A lot of us had.

The defense each had their own lawyer.  The Phillip Morris attorney went first.

8.  Did any of us feel that the cigerette companies were 100% responsible for what had happened to cigerette users?  Some people did.
9.  Did any of have any beliefs in what the tobacco company's policy was regarding addiction, cancer, and COPD?  I was personally asked that, and I told him, "The old policy was to deny, deny, and deny." 
10.  Did any of us feel that corporations were evil in general, or if they did anything they could to make a buck?  One guy didn't trust corporations at all.
11.  Did we believe that everyone who smokes must be addicted?
12.  Was smoking a personal choice?
13.  Why do people smoke?
14.  Have you ever smoked?  If yes, when did you start?  Did you stop?  Why did you stop? 
15.  Should all three companies be held equally responsible or should one be held more responsible than the others?
16.  If someone has smoked for 30 years are they 100% addicted?
17.  What was our definition of addiction? 

That's all I can remember off the top of my head.  You can see by asking 90 people that this would take a while.  In fact, all those questions took all of the first day, and 2 hours of the second day.

When I talked to the different lawyers I told them that my family had grown tobacco in West Virginia as a cash crop.  I told him that they mostly grew burley tobacco, and I had plenty of realtives who smoked, and chewed tobacco.  The planiff's lawyer asked me if they had ever grown Bright tobacco, and I told him no. 

I did talk to the defense attorney from Phillip Morris regarding the question, "If someone smokes for 30 years, are they addicted?"  I said, "Well the percentage is pretty high that they are."  He asked, "How high?"  I told him, "At least 90%"  He asked if he would have to overcome my position?  I told him that, "No the burden is on the plantiff."  He didn't like or believe that answer so he asked me it again.  And then I told him again, "No, the burden of proof is on the plantiff."

So on the second day after all the questions they cut the jury pool down to 24.  I was one of the 24.  So I went to the jury waiting room, and then I couldn't believe what happened.  They called another group of 24.  I'm sure they asked all the same questions again.  Because the other 23 jurors and myself waited from 11 to 5 PM.  At 5 PM we were called back to the courtroom on the sixth floor.  Out of the additional 24 that were called they picked 3 jurors.  Out of my group of 24 they picked 7 jurors.  I was not one of them.

Again, a lot of people would be angered by that experience, but I understand it.  I would want a good jury if I were being charged with something.  I am happy to be part of the safety net that is our legal system.

No comments:

Post a Comment