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Your Honor, I have an objection…

From A to Zowie

Your Honor, I have an objection…

By Richard Zowie

(Published in the August 18, 2010 issue of the Clio,Mich.-based Mt. Morris/Clio Birch Run/Bridgeport Herald)

The time I’ve spent lately in Genesee County Circuit Court covering, for the Herald, the Michigan Association of Police’s injunction request against Genesee Township has reminded me of the other few times in my life I’ve been in court. Twice within the last decade, while living in San Antonio, Texas, I received a jury summons. The first case was a juvenile accused of bringing a gun to school while the second was a murder case.

I was eager, and still am, at the prospect of jury duty. According to the contract I had with my then-employer, I would still receive my regular salary even while on a jury.

Willingness apparently doesn’t count as I wasn’t chosen either time. The second case left me particularly bitter. There, I was Juror Number 29 in a pool of 72 potential jurors for a 12-member jury in the murder trial. So, I figured I’d have a decent shot of getting onto the jury.

Wrong. By the time the judge questioned me, it was a formality: they’d already chosen their 12 jurors.

One man tried to get out of serving because not only was he prejudiced against Hispanics (the defendant was Hispanic), he was also prejudiced against EVERYONE. Another guy said a family member had recently been killed, and he did not feel he could be impartial.

I do not remember if they were chosen to serve, but I do remember one particular juror who was chosen. He was a self-employed businessman who pleaded with the judge not to select him.

“Your Honor, I am my only employee, and I will literally lose thousands of dollars every day I’m on this jury,” he said. If I remember right, he had a thick stack of business records to show the judge to prove his hardship.

Too bad, the judge essentially said, and the businessman was selected.

In a trial that lasted about a week, the defendant was convicted of murder and received a 99-year prison sentence. I’ve often wondered if the businessman, disgusted about his lost income and the damage done to his business, simply went with the most expedient verdict so he could quickly return to his business. That’s a scary thought for an innocent defendant or for a prosecutor desperately trying to put away a cold-blooded psychopath.

I was again reminded of this recently when my brother-in-law, Joe, was selected to serve on a federal grand jury for three days. Joe is a self-employed locksmith, and my sister told me that when he returned back to his job, things were crazy as he had to quickly play catch-up to fill back orders. Again, while Joe sometimes enlists in the help of family members (including my nephews, my sister, my father and my other brother-in-law), Joe is his only employee.

For any lawyers or judges reading this, please enlighten me: if a self-employed person can prove a significant loss of income by serving on a jury, why shouldn’t jury duty be optional for them? Yes, I know there are creative excuses conjured by people who loathe sitting on a jury, but there are also people like me who’d love to sit on a jury but never receive the opportunity due the extinction of common sense.

Richard Zowie is a reporter and columnist for the Herald. Visit his blog at www.fromatozowie.wordpress.com or e-mail him at fromatozowie@gmail.com.

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