Tuesday, December 29, 2009

It had to happen sooner or later...

We joke in our court about our probation officer, Ben, who always seems to be in the right place at the right time to spot one of his probationers doing something they shouldn't -- shoplifting, getting drunk, driving when they don't have a license. It helps that he apparently has a photographic memory for people's faces and their crimes, but it's still uncanny the way he's always Johnny-on-the-spot. (Hmmm... maybe a little too uncanny...)

Anyway, I've always known that it would happen to me, too: I'd be out and about minding my own business and I'd run into someone who will recognize me from the courtroom. My only hope was that I'd recognize them first, but not having Ben's memory that was never likely.

And so it was, on Saturday, I was at a public playscape with my wife and kids when a man, there with his young daughter, looks over and says, "Excuse me, but do you recognize me?"

My first thought was to adopt a lisp and a Texan accent, or act lost and start speaking in French. But I didn't want my wife to have me committed, so I just said, "No, sorry."

Well, turns out the man was a juror on my first trial of 2009, back in April. All the way back in April. Long time ago, April. Plus he had grown a beard, so no way I could be expected to recognize him. But as our kids played, we had a nice chat about the case, about his memories of it and how the experience was for him. It had been eye-opening, he said, and while it wasn't something he'd initially been thrilled about doing, I got the impression he was very happy to have served on that jury.

For me, I was very interested to know that he and the other jurors saw the evidence and witnesses much the way we did. For example, there were four or five witnesses who one might say had credibility issues. And I'm talking about witnesses for the defense and prosecution - as a lawyer, you don't get to pick and choose your witnesses. If the person was there and saw something relevant, they have to testify. We trust our jurors to sort the wheat from the chaff and in my view, this juror was extremely astute in his analysis. I was also pleased that the jurors put so much stock in the hard work on an investigator who explained (in exceptional detail) his work. I told him afterwards he talked too much, didn't wait for my questions, but the jurors felt like he was explaining his work to them. Shows what I know.

During our chat the juror started asking me questions about the job generally. So I pointed him, of course, to this blog.

I tell you all this to back up what I've said before: it may not be your first choice,spending the week with a bunch of strangers, deciding matters of guilt and innocence, but it's a hugely rewarding experience when you do get the label of "Juror" thrust upon you. Kind of like when you're at the store and an old guy, one who smokes two packs a day and hasn't brushed his teeth in three weeks, collapses and you're the only one who knows CPR. It's not like you want to put your mouth on his but, well, people are watching. You have to.

Imagine, then, how you feel when that old man coughs and splutters his way back to life. Pretty good, right? Sure you do, and once you've rinsed your mouth out with gasoline you're going to look back on the experience and recommend it. Or, at the very least, be proud that you did your best at that moment.

And when you meet that old man at a public playscape and shake his hand, you won't mind that he says, "No, sorry, I don't remember you" you won't even mind that much. After all, he was unconscious while your mouth was on him. Hopefully. And at the end of the day, because it's what you did that matters, not whether he remembers who did it.

That said, if you do run into him at that playscape, your next duty will be to keep an eye on him. Not only may he keel over again, you gotta wonder why an old man is lurking around a playscape.

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