Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Real classy

I recorded this last night while watching news coverage of our deadly Metro accident here in D.C.

As if you needed one more reason not to listen to that ridiculous show. (If, on the other hand, you like your "irreverent" radio shows to have a brain, might I suggest Radio From Hell? Available on the radio, streaming live online, or via free iTunes podcast!)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Hobnobbing here amongst the elite

Just a quick update to let you all know that I'm surrounded by celebrities and/or pseudo-celebrities. First, a few images from last week, when I was walking my dog and about a block away from my house I stumbled into Paul Rudd. He was apparently in town with Owen Wilson, filming at my favorite pre-kickball watering hole, Adams Mill:

And then this, from the world of reality TV. The house where the cast of MTV's The Real World: D.C. is 0.6 miles from my house, as seen in this screen shot of Google Maps' suggested walking route from my house to the Real World house:

Please understand that I have no intention of walking to the Real World: D.C. house, and I haven't watched a season (or even an episode) of that show since the days of Julie, Melissa and Danny in New Orleans. But it's still a little intriguing to think I will live that close to a Real World house.

Now, check out these images I grabbed from the Google Maps Street View of the Real World house. Do you think the MTV people noticed the homeless man sleeping on the stoop? Do you think he'll still be able to catch a nap there when the show is being filmed inside? Ah, the "real world" indeed:

Friday, June 5, 2009

Civic Part Deux(ty)

First of all, an apology for my previous post about jury duty. I may or may not have been extra-effusive because I had just recently indulged in a little post-kickball celebrating. This is not to say that I retract anything I said. I meant it all - I probably just wouldn't normally have been so geeky about it. Or, as Brian pointed out in the comments, I. Am. A. Nerd.

That notwithstanding, my jury service is over and I feel as honored as ever to have been part of the justice system. We found the guy not guilty on all counts, in a relatively quick 45-minute-or-so deliberating session that went surprisingly smoothly and was perhaps the most interesting part of the trial.

One comment I made in that previous post was that "I know I will make the right decision," and that caught some of you off guard. Let me clarify: I didn't say, "I know I will make the true and accurate decision." I said the right decision. By this, I meant that I trusted myself to follow my conscience and make the decision that seemed the most right. This confidence isn't from cockiness or delusions of Solomonic wisdom. It's because, as messy and complicated as questions of guilt and crime and bad human behavior are, and as complex as legal theory and legalese can be, the fundamental structure of the law as a whole is so simple. The bottom line is that every law is made up of a series of elements, basically "yes or no" questions, and each element is very specifically and meticulously defined. For juries, the law doesn't ask us to sit and ponder all the big-picture questions. It just says to go through each of those elements, one by one, and ask yourself, "Did the government prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that this thing happened?"

And we decided that, in this case, the prosecutor did not prove that. Which is pretty remarkable because the defense attorney didn't do a particularly stellar job defending his client.

Turns out, we were all hung up on the same point, the same question, the same hole in the prosecutor's case. Basically, the case was about a guy who was pulled over for excessive tint in his windows but was found, upon search, to have a gun in his trunk. I am legally allowed to talk about the case now, but for the privacy of the defendant and my fellow jurors, I don't really feel comfortable broadcasting the details via my blog. Let me just say this: We just weren't convinced.

Am I certain that this guy is innocent? No. But we didn't find him innocent. We just found him not guilty - that is, not proven to have been guilty. We simply didn't receive the proof, and that's the burden of the prosecutor. Simple as that.

I think the prosecutor was surprised. It could have been the poor performance of the defense attorney or the fact that, on its surface, this kind of looked like a fairly straight-forward case. After the verdict, the prosecutor approached me as the jury foreman (oh yeah - I was elected foreman :)) and asked me if I could tell him what it was we were unsure about, as a learning experience.

And I think that's what this whole experience was for all of us jurors: a learning experience.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Oh ya know, just grazing

Walking home from jury duty today, this is what I passed by in my neighborhood. Like, literally – in my neighborhood! As usual, my real camera was out of batteries, and these cell phone pictures are really pathetic. I must have been about 10 yards away from them!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Civic Duty

Have you seen "Flightplan"? It's a mediocre 2005 movie starring Jodie Foster. I saw previews for it back when it was new. I never really wanted to see it. I knew what it was &ndash I knew it was chock full of action and suspense as Jodie desperately tried to find her missing daughter on a trans-Atlantic flight. Surely she's onboard somewhere. We saw her there. But is Jodie's character crazy? What's happening? I could have written this script. All I wanted to know was how it was going to end. The whole point of this movie is, of course, how do they resolve it? Is the little girl, or is not the little girl, really missing on that plane somewhere?

I never really wanted to see this movie. I never thought I would. Not worth renting, certainly not worth seeing in the theater. But I kinda wanted to know what happened to that little girl.

So there I was, early this afternoon, sitting in the Juror Lounge at the Moultrie Courthouse in Washington, D.C. I was summonsed for jury duty. I arrived at 8, and by 12:30, there had been three jury panels called and I was not on any of them. Lunch was promised at 1. I was struggling with a faulty wireless network, trying to get some work done during the brief intervals of Internet connectivity I could grab. And "Flightplan" was showing on the TVs throughout the room.

Fast-forward to 12:55. I'm starving. It's almost lunch. I've finished the last piece of the membership newsletter and I'm just about to get the wireless to work so that I can e-mail it to some awaiting coworkers so it can be sent out. And "Flightplan" is just about to resolve itself.

And they call a new jury panel. And they call my number.

So I missed the end of "Flightplan" and still have no idea what actually happened. And I was late for lunch, and the members had to wait a few hours for their newsletter.

But – I finally was called to sit on a jury panel. I've loved the idea of jury service since I covered the courts for the Deseret News and fell in love with our judicial system. I finally get to see what happens behind the scenes.

It was a long day. Lots of sitting and waiting and 15-minute breaks and then sitting and waiting some more.

At the end of the day, I made the cut. I was one of the final 14 people still sitting in the juror box after all the attorneys, the defendant and the judge had had their say. I am a juror for a criminal case. It may sound strange, but this is a dream come true.

I am in love with our American system of justice. I know that a lot of people bemoan their mandatory summons for jury service. I got the hunch that most of the other people who were called to jury duty today were annoyed by the meticulous, detailed, step-by-step intricacies of today. Waiting for their number to be called. Waiting for the judge to repeat the exact language of the juror qualification questions for a third time. Waiting for the precise procedure to play out.

I know that most people think legalities are trifling and excessive. I am really in love with it. Its exactness. The way it carefully and cautiously ensures a level playing field for defendant and accuser. Of all of America's ingenious systems, our judicial system is the most genius and the most amazing.

When I used to sit in courtrooms as a newspaper reporter, I usually had an opinion. I tried to remain as unbiased as I could for the sake of fair reporting. But I knew the cases' backstory. I heard the lawyers' chat in the hallway. I knew what the judge and the attorneys were talking about in the courtroom when the jurors were safely tucked away. I was impossibly biased, and I usually had a hoped-for outcome. I always wanted to be a juror, to see what that blank-slate feeling was like, to see if I could actually enter a trial completely free of preconception or bias. And here I am, about to be one-fourteenth of a panel deciding what will hereafter be considered the settled truth about what did and didn't happen in a specific case. And I can honestly say I have no idea what the outcome will be. I know nothing about the facts of the case, nor of the accusations or allegations. I don't know the defendant. I don't know the backstory.

I know I will make the right decision.

I know American justice is the final word in justice. I love this system – and now I'm part of it!