I’m sure that whenever anyone does jury duty in his hometown, there is something very-“that town” about his duty. And there was something very L.A. about my duty. Given that LA remains the showbiz capital of the nation (if not the world), that makes the “L.A. aspects” of my jury duty all the more interesting.
On the second day of my service, they had closed off the streets around Walt Disney Concert Hall (where we had free parking) for a film shoot. They were filming the film version of the ’60s televsion series Get Smart. I was delighted to learn that Steve Carrell would be taking Don Adams‘s role. That’s good casting.
Earlier this week, when I had arrived early for my service, I passed a gaggle of reporters waiting outside the courthouse. I wondered what trial they were covering. (It couldn’t have been mine — we never had more that two people in the audience and one of them was a legal assistant to the plaintiffs, the other was the defendant’s wife.)
My curiosity was soon sated when a familiar voice called out my name. I turned to see an old friend whom I hadn’t seen in some time. This attractive young woman, a writer like myself, was earning some extra income by covering David Hasselhoff‘s custody hearing for US Weekly. I didn’t even know that that actor had any kids, much less was subject to a custody battle.
When another friend learned I was serving on a jury, he wondered if I was on the Phil Spector jury. Yeah, people do assume our jury service is more glamorous here. And I would dare say those selected to serve on the Spector panel went through the same process as we did.
But, the case I heard could have taken place anywhere. And those involved seemed to have problems, strengths and characteristics similar to Americans in cities less “media-worthy” than my adopted home town.
Yeah, it would have been nice if my jury service could have helped me secure a book deal. That said, I did learn a lot, things which gave me increased confidence in our justice system and our fellow citizens as well an increased insight into the human condition — and to my own life.
As I learned about the parties to the case — and watched the attorneys representing them, I saw their very human qualities. Internalizing these observations should continue to help me develop something which Katharine Hepburn‘s Tracy Lord gains in Philadephia Story — an understanding heart.*
I felt for the plaintiff and wanted to be able to link her misfortunes to the alleged wrongdoing of the defendant; she had clearly suffered and did need help (as do many of us). She deserved restitution for a number of bad things which had happened to her over the course of her short (so far) life. But, don’t we all deserve such restitution at one time or another in our lives? And who’s going to pay it if we can’t pin the blame on someone (individual or institution) in particular — or if the person responsible doesn’t have the wherewithal to adequately compensate us?
That’s the question that occupied me on my restless night before we begin our deliberations. It’s the question that still occupies me. The defendant in our case had clearly made errors in judgment in his relations with the plaintiff, but those errors did not amount, in my mind — or in the minds of my fellow jurors, to legal liability for the plaintiff’s woes.
Just as we were sympathetic to the plaintiff’s suffering, we were also understanding of the defendant’s situation. As we carefully considered both sides of the case, we wondered if he could have done more to help her. But, that might have subject him to a very high standard, one which only a a few people could meet.
Unlike those who served on a jury considering a celebrity’s crime, custody battle or other wrondoing, I will likely not get a book deal out of this case. Nor will I be able to sell my story to a magazine, but at least my serivce will help me become a better writer. The fame of the case may not guarantee sales (or increased readership) of my writings, but it will at least making those writings more insightful and possibly even more meaningful.
I don’t expect this to be my last writing on my jury service for it impacted me pretty profoundly, indeed, had expected to write on something else today. But, as I was reading the news, blogs and other opinion on the web, I found myslf writing this piece.
* After I finished this post, I found the quotation I had initially been seeking when I was writing the piece. Cary Grant‘s C.K. Dexter Haven tells Hepburn’s Lord, “You’ll never be a first class human being or a first class woman until you’ve learned to have some regard for human frailty.” That advice applies to all of us.