This morning, for the first time in my life I was impaneled on a jury, heard a trial, and rendered a verdict. This was perhaps the fifth time I’ve been called, the first time I’ve been selected.
The details of the case are inconsequential and I take the confidentiality of the jury room very seriously after today’s experience. What was interesting was the overwhelming sense of responsibility I felt to listen harder than I had ever listened before, to pay attention to the judge’s instructions, to separate fact from hearsay, and “discharge my duty” to the best of my abilities. The instructions were emphatically clear – was there a contract between the two parties? We weren’t to decide what was “fair” or what the “equity” between the two parties should be – that wasn’t the issue. The issue was simple: was there a contract or an agreement between the two parties?
I’ve followed trials as a reporter but the experience of sitting in a chair a few feet away from the defendant and the plaintiff, locking eyes with them because in the end we’re the only people in the room that matter, hearing their sad story (happy stories don’t go to Falmouth District Court on a Monday in March), was powerful and lot more engaging than scribbling shorthand notes in a steno pad in the back row thinking about lunch.
The dynamics of the jury during the deliberation was amazing. No straw vote kicked things off; the juror video made it clear that was not a smart idea. Instead there was a quick, frank, discussion where everyone listened respectfully to everybody else. I made a single point that the question had been set out by the judge, said everything else was extraneous to that question, and then listened as people complained about their lack of power in determining what was fair. We voted. We were unanimous. We returned to the courtroom, delivered our verdict, and five minutes later were saying goodbye to each other in the parking lot. Fair/unfair, right/wrong – it was pretty cool and I drove away feeling super-civic and pretty happy to be a citizen of a country where a jury of one’s peers is a fundamental right.
Oh, and the judge cracked me up when he said, “I don’t want to see any blackberries googling or twittering in my court or in the jury room. I’ve never googled anything in my life except for a few good looking dames.”