Friday, November 28, 2008

Jury Duty 101

I’ve had jury duty four times now and I must say it is a civic duty for which we are the least prepared. The first time I was called, I lived in Alameda County and had to drive into downtown Oakland to attend the first day of initiation into our esteemed legal system. After watching the requisite video about why we should all serve as jurors. I watched as the room settled into groups of people playing cards, reading books or magazines, taking naps or lining up to use the pay phone. This was before cell phones of course. Sometime after lunch break we were counted off into groups and were sent to our prospective courts for the jury selection process. While we watched from the audience area prospective jurors were called one at a time up to the witness stand before the judge, court reporter, defense attorney and prosecutor for questioning.

This querying is called voir dire which is probably Latin for jury inquisition. Some of the prospective jurors were very indignant about the whole process and when asked if they believed the defendant was innocent until proven guilty, they adamantly stated “No” and “If he was innocent he wouldn’t be on trial.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but these people had been through the jury process before and wanted no part of it. The lawyers asked each prospect whether they thought the testimony of police officers was honest and believable and whether they or any member of their immediate family, had been the victims of a violent crime. And so the day wore on with one person after another answering the questions and either being dismissed or selected into the jury box.

Now my first experience was a criminal case in superior court where 12 jurors would be required to hear the case and return a unanimous verdict. In order to have 12, we actually needed 15 because the alternates might be needed if something happened to one of the original 12. I realized that first day I needed to stock up on reading material because the pace of this activity was called speedy but, in my opinion, was anything but. In my search for reading material I looked for books that might be helpful for a prospective juror and picked up “The Onion Field”, “Till Death Do Us Part”, and "Fatal Vision ," a book on the Jeffery McDonald murder case and one on World War II. Unfortunately, I needed twice as many books because I had way too much time to kill.

It was the end of the second day or the morning of the third when I was called to the stand and answered all the questions to the best of my ability. I was struck by the last question as to whether I could find the defendant guilty if the preponderance of the evidence showed him to be so. It seems like such an obvious question and it is. I learned later people will say things they may not really be willing to do when the time comes. It was a sad lesson in human behavior.

So I was selected into the jury box and I was either juror 10 or 11 and waited another day before we had the required number to proceed. When the judge explained what the case entailed and how long it might last, those of us who wanted to get back to work were not very happy while those jurors who wanted time away from work were quite pleased that the trial might last 6 or 8 weeks. And so began the murder trial of the defendant.

The trial part of jury duty was pretty easy all we had to do was stay awake and pay attention to the testimony given by the witnesses. The prosecution presented their case and the defense countered until the trial was over. The judge gave plenty of instructions to the jury and we retired to the deliberation room. This is where you find that you have nothing to go by. No reference, no clues, nothing.

We were all intelligent adults and we figured out on our own that we needed to select a foreman, a spokesman for the group. I was selected as the jury foreman and I suppose my ego was delighted. The first thing I wanted to do was take a vote to see where the jurors fell on guilt or innocence. This was my first mistake. Some of the jurors did not want to do that just yet. They wanted to discuss the case first. So we took a vote and there were a few for guilty, a few for not guilty and a bunch for neither. It was then I realized I may have gotten myself into more than I could handle. So we proceeded to discuss the case. This exercise went on for more than a week and my goal was to find out how long a work holiday some of the jurors intended to get.

During the deliberations, the court did provide a sack lunch on a few days but I did not find this activity to be a holiday. Among the jurors who were about half and half men and women, was an employee of the IRS, a Seven-Up delivery driver, a senior salesman for a leasing company, and a technician at Sandia. When all was said and done, the defendant, a man from a large family in Oakland, shot his wife 5 times but claimed self-defense because he was a cocaine dealer and was suffering from paranoia.

During the trial, we learned about as much as you would want to know about how the brain works under the influence of cocaine addiction. While the evidence was fairly straight forward we could not come to a unanimous decision on a second-degree murder charge which is required in a criminal case. One of the jurors could not and would not find the defendant guilty of murder. He also would not step down from the jury and let one of the alternates take his place. By some stroke of luck we did find the defendant guilty of possession of cocaine for sale and if the district attorney’s office had not charged him with the second count, the defendant would have walked away scot free.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

To all my artist friends

I am continually astounded and amazed by the work of artists I have known throughout my life. My mother was an art teacher and an artist and I spent a considerable amount of time playing music in several bands.

Some examples of people I have known who are artists now include my friend Pete Smith from Scotland who I admire greatly and whose collaboration provided many good moments working together at Agilent Technologies (formerly Hewlett-Packard). His site can be found at

Another friend I met in college, at San Francisco State, impressed me from the moment I met him with his exuberance, energy, and positive spirit, Bill Cone works at Pixar Corporation now in animated film but when we were in college we were kindred musicians. His blog provides ample evidence of the depth of his talents and is an inspiration to those who appreciate art at its finest.

Among the many musicians with whom I had the pleasure of jamming is Paul Jackson, a member of the Headhunters and Herbie Hancock’s band. Paul is an innovator and bassist extraordinaire. Paul worked at Sherman & Clay in Pleasant Hill when I attended Diablo Valley College and we never played in a band together. I did visit his home in Oakland and recall a wonderful time just jamming together.

Another old friend is Hal Miller who is probably the best keyboardist I have ever known. The fact that he has perfect pitch didn’t hurt anything either. We played together in Parts and Labor and we worked together at Digital Marketing and Computer Aided Management.

Dave Harvey is an old high school buddy who has maintained the artist label and is making a living at it. Among my other high school friends is Dave Moak who has maintained his musician chops as a hobby while making a living in construction.

I was reminded the other day when I heard the Aretha Franklin hit “Rock Steady,” of a time when I played with a bass player named Terry Davis in a club in Napa quite a few years ago. He used to admonish me because I counted the song off too fast and it was truly a workout for him to perform the bass line. Terry went on to play in a band called Stone Ground with a few other friends from those days; Vern Built, lead singer, Tim Barnes, lead guitarist and Mike Mau, the drummer.

I have some new friends who amaze me with their talent including my future daughter in law’s mother Robin Burgert. Robin is quite an accomplished artist who does sculpture and painting in her spare time.