Saturday, January 14, 2017


No high ceilings. No walnut paneling. Instead, it was a non-descript beige-colored windowless conference room with mismatched chairs, an empaneling room in the county court house. I was with 18 or so other civic minded souls who hadn't dodged their jury duty summonses, or just as likely, had used up all their deferrals. We were the last gaggle culled from the 100 or so that had been called to serve one cold January morning.  

After 10 minutes or so, a clerk came in and handed out questionnaires. As we filled them out she told us that lawyers would be in shortly to add to an existing panel 2 more regular jurors and 2 alternates. After we completed the forms, she collected them, shuffled them, asked us to stand, then called our names and asked to sit in order.  

Then the two attorneys came in. As the clerk distributed copies of our questionnaires to each, they introduced themselves and their firms. The two took a few minutes to scan the papers, then one got up and gave us an overview of the case. The facts weren't in dispute: one man was to blame, having driven head on into another, causing both serious injuries. However, in the hospital after the accident, it was discovered that the man who caused the accident had a brain tumor, which he subsequently died from several years later. The man who was hit was suing the first (actually, his estate), saying his family had seen his erratic behavior leading up to the accident, should have known something was amiss, and should not have allowed him to drive. If chosen, we would be asked to agree or disagree with that contention. If we disagreed, the trial was over, and the injured gentlemen would get nothing. If we agreed, then we would also have to determine damages. Numerous witnesses would be presented, both medical and personal. And we would have to decide which it was.

All this, and we hadn't even gotten to the court room.

He started questioning us politely one by one. Had we ever been in an auto accident? Had we ever been sued? Could we set aside our sympathies to look at the facts? In several cases, an answer caused the lawyer to ask the potential juror to step into the hall along with the opposing counsel for a less public inquiry. And then it was my turn.

He asked me the same basic questions. No, no, yes, I said. But then I allowed that he had all but tried the case in front of us already.  He quickly requested I step outside, and asked me to elaborate. I told them that they described a un-diagnosed brain tumor. And we've all had experiences where we have something long before we go to a doctor, be it the flu or a hernia or whatever. But, protested one lawyer, what if you heard medical evidence that this wasn't really hidden? I responded that then the other lawyer would produce a doctor that said differently. They were like reviews on Amazon; they would cancel each other out. Additionally, I said that in my of line of work I was used to making decisions quickly; I didn't need to hear multiple witnesses. One would be plenty. They thanked me for my candor, and ushered me back to my seat.

It continued around the room in a similar vein. One person knew someone with a brain tumor, another had been in an accident. Then the other lawyer had his turn, and probed a little deeper. One person had an employee just diagnosed with a life-threatening condition. Another was related to a doctor. After the second lawyer finished, the two excused themselves and left the room. Ten minutes later they came back with a court officer, called out 4 names and led them away. The rest of us wished them luck, then went back to sitting.

A few minutes later, the door opened and another 15 or so folks filed in. Turned out they had been through a similar process. They found seats, and we all went back to books or phones. A bit later the court officer came back and told us that was it. We were dismissed. As it was, none of us would get to sit in judgement. Rather, it was we who had been judged. And in the matter of having an opinion, we were each pronounced guilty.


Marc Wollin of Bedford is good for 6 years of no official judgments. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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