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Thursday
Jan292009

Jury Duty (Part 4)

The Blind Broad with the Scales

Sweet Justitia, let me caress your ample bosom and whisper to me what is right and true. Provide me with the wisdom and guidance to make the correct decision in this case. Now move a little to your left, as your sword is about to emasculate me.
The metaphor for the day came in the form of a disheveled homeless man who approached me on the steps of the courthouse. He was far from menacing and seemed to be seeking some sort of justice of his own. He began with friendliness and a typical apology for bothering me before launching into his spiel.
“Hey Friend, could you spare some change for a bro-“
“Let me stop you right there”, I said assertively, “I’m afraid I have no cash on me.”
Which was true. I had been paying for my lunches with my debit card all week and the parking was free for jurors. I even took out my wallet and showed him its sad, barren interior. I was hoping moths would flutter out for effect. No such luck.
“Sorry, Man”, I commiserated convincingly.
His mood suddenly shifted and he stomped off- muttering profanities- his once ingratiating smile disappearing into a scowl.
I think he was faking that initial friendliness. Call me cynical, but I don’t think he wanted to be my friend at all. I think, maybe, all he really wanted was the money.
Nevertheless, there was to be no justice for him today. At least not financially and certainly not from me.
I was needed to dispense it elsewhere.
My third day at the courthouse began to take on the glow of familiarity. I recognized other poor lost souls wandering the courtrooms and hallways whom I had met during the previous two days. All of us now wore a look of resigned pride, perhaps even a bit of arrogance at having been selected. Why, I don’t know, but it was there. We also wore a look of utter mental exhaustion and boredom teetering on the brink of tears.
Sobbing was not an option however.
It suggested weakness.
And given the civic responsibility and oath to duty at hand, that just would not do.
Stalwartness and focus were the guiding principles now. And I had a busload of those.
I was not so sure about my other eleven fellow jurors.
The case involved a young man, let’s call him “Doug“, who was rear-ended in his SUV by a guy with a pickup at the on-ramp to an interstate. The impact was not great (the pickup was going no more than 20 MPH) but Doug’s pre-existing back and arm conditions were aggravated in the accident. To the point where the medications he had to take for the pain and the physical limitations of the injuries had caused him to lose his job as a foreman at a shipping warehouse. Heavy lifting was a daily demand of his occupation.
His insurance company, let’s call them “State Farm” because it fucking was, decided that even though Doug had paid extra for “uninsured motorist” coverage for years, the uninsured motorist that struck him could not possibly have done as much damage as Doug had claimed.
And so it goes.
We heard testimony from one of Doug’s former fellow employees who swore that he was altered significantly, not only in physicality but mentally as well, from the pain and suffering.
She was badgered to no end by the surprisingly aggressive and mean spirited female attorney from State Farm.
And here is where I thought State Farm made a gross error in judgment.
During the jury selection process they were represented by an all around nice guy lawyer who cracked jokes, was engaging and showed authentically personable traits to the potential jurors.
As the trial began he took a backseat, setting the stage for this shrill, wholly detestable harpy who had the social skills of a leper, the abrasiveness of a die-hard Republican and the iciness of a Nordic misanthrope who just fully lost their faith in humanity.
As a film critic, one schooled in the judgment of dramatic impact, I had an unusual interest in the perception and effect these legal “performers” were having on the rest of the people in the courtroom. The way they would sway people through emphasis, elocution and mannerisms.
Because if there is one thing that sounds entirely cliché but is irrefutably true, the whole process seems just like a movie.
A very long, very boring, interminable movie.
A Vince Vaughn film.
So, I felt the defendants (State Farm) had screwed up by allowing this clipped, curt, cold and downright awful human being to be their representation in a delicate matter such as this. When you have a plaintiff who is obviously suffering and in extreme physical and emotional discomfort, the last thing you would want to be seen as when questioning him is bullying, callous or unsympathetic to his pain.
After all, they admitted they owed him money. It was their obligation by policy that they pay him. They were quite up front about that. They just didn’t want to pay him all that much.
What struck me most peculiar was the disorganization and perceived lack of preparedness from all the attorneys involved. They continually misplaced papers, lost their train of thought mid-sentence, often behaved like petulant children and fumbled golden opportunities to really put it to their opposition.
In the case of the plaintiff’s lawyer, who had brought a DVD deposition from a physician who had treated Doug (testimony which their entire case hinged on), he didn’t even bother to check whether the goddamn disk worked prior to playing it.
It did not.
The testimony had to be read aloud and obviously lost a bit of impact coming from the bumbling attorney’s lips instead of the doctor’s.
Unforgivable.
The first day’s business took about four hours (we weren’t seated until about 1 p.m.) and we were dismissed and told not to discuss the case outside the courtroom with anyone involved, fellow jurors included.
I went home and reflected on the day’s events and my responsibilities.
The experience is overwhelmingly strange at its core. First, there is the excitement. Then tinges of self-doubt creep in as you begin to realize the impact your decision will have on the lives of other people. Perhaps life-long ramifications. Not the insurance company obviously. I mean, really, fuck them. They were low-balling. They owed the guy money. It was just a matter of how much. And they were being cheap about it. Exceptionally cheap.
And that’s always been my problem with the insurance industry.
Beside it being a business entirely based on sucking money from people through fear and intimidation (it’s much like The Mob in that respect), it balloons costs for nearly everything purchasable and systemically employs the most boring people on the face of the planet. It also seldom wants to uphold its end of the bargain. It has no problem raking in all the premiums under the auspices of protection. It even benifits from far reaching legal requirements which drum up more business. It just has a hard time being there for you when disaster strikes and you actually need some assistance.
“Like a good neighbor” my ass!
Maybe if your neighbor comes over everyday, punches you in the mouth, fucks your wife and daughter, makes you watch, swipes a twenty from you and takes a dump in your yard.
When the unthinkable occurs to some poor luckless bastard who has paid to quell his fears, there’s always a clause or exception or just plain, base greed that prevents them from honoring the contract.
Hell, you think that’s unfair, John Doe? Get an attorney and let’s settle this in a court of law. With the corporate-friendly tort reform initiatives of the Republican Party (despite decreasing amounts of awards and number of lawsuits nationwide before their enactment) the wronged little guy faces an even greater struggle in attaining fairness through the courts.
I was in a position to do some good here. To mete out some actual justice. Balance the scales as it were. Seek Justitia’s wise council. I seriously considered my bias toward corporations in my ultimate decision. My impartiality had to be true and strong.
So, I decided I was going to try to fuck those bastards over for all I could.
You know, for Doug. And all the rest of us Dougs out there.

NEXT:

Deliberations of the dumb and the damned.

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