Posts Tagged point of view
Nobody likes it. I am no exception. We’re talking about jury duty, of course. I kept trying to forget the impending date, but something kept reminding me, like, the Jury Summons itself sitting in a corner of the bedroom on my desk. Despite the negative anticipation and a six a.m. alarm, I wound up having a pretty good time on my day in court—believe it or not.
For starters, the clerk called out my number and name among the first panel of prospective jurors summoned that morning. I went directly upstairs to await the process of Jury selection instead of sitting in an over-crowded room of eight hundred people coughing, burping, farting, and talking on their cell phones.
Being selected randomly by the computer for the first panel of jurors equates to winning the lottery…well, maybe the scratch off lottery. I sat in a waiting room outside the courtroom on the fifth floor with seventeen other fortunate souls awaiting Voir Dire (to speak the truth) also known as jury selection. The bailiff ushered us into the courtroom where six attorneys (three for each side) and the judge awaited us. Everyone except the judge stood during our entrance out of respect for the judicial system and our suffering…whoops, I mean our service.
I feel compelled to interject a few words about the judge here. She belied all of my preconceived notions about judges, the product mostly of television programs. She showed uncommon courtesy, sympathy and compassion for the jurors, and a kindness as well as fairness towards the attorneys.
The judge read a brief overview of the case to us. It involved a former police officer who was suing the girl who stabbed him while on duty and Wal-mart where the crime occurred.
Now the process of Voir Dire began in earnest with the lead attorney for the plaintiff asking us a series of questions. Here are some of the highlights. When asked if anyone on the panel had a problem with personal injury lawsuits, two gentlemen and one woman offered that they believed more than fifty percent of PI lawsuits were frivolous. Another woman stated that she, as a Christian person, had a problem with all lawsuits, professing that people should not sue one another.
When asked about our opinions about lawyers in general, one gentleman said, “I hate lawyers. My ex-wife and her scheming attorney sentenced me to a lifetime of alimony payments.”
It seems to me the only explanation that people make statements and express views such as these is for the express purpose of being relieved of the burden of jury duty.
After a lunch break, the lead defense attorney approached us for questioning. He began by asking, “Does anyone on the panel bake.” Three women raised their hands. The Plaintiff’s attorney immediately objected. “We don’t have any cakes or baking in this case.”
The Judge allowed the defense some leeway when the defense attorney promised to, “tie in” the question. He made the point that baked goods must have a specific number of ingredients included for a successful result. Failure to include one or more ingredients will doom the baking project. In a similar fashion, the plaintiff’s attorneys were duty-bound to prove all the elements required by law for the jury to award damages.
It dawned upon me that attorneys begin indoctrinating the jury even before the formal proceedings begin. You learn something new every day.
The defense attorney then asked us if anyone had a bad customer experience at Wal-mart. One gentleman raised his hand. Under repeated questioning, he admitted a manager resolved the matter to his satisfaction.
Then the attorney dropped, what turned out for me, the hydrogen bomb. He asked if anyone on the panel “had a problem with Wal-mart in general.” In that moment, I realized I did—a big problem.
I flashed back six months to a PBS Frontline documentary titled, “Is Wal-mart Good for America.” I found it enlightening and a bit shocking.
I proceeded to tell the attorney that I did have a problem with Wal-mart. He said he would question me in private about it. Obviously, he didn’t want my opinion to contaminate the other panelists.
After the defense attorney finished his questions, I expressed my views with the other jury members outside the room. I said I had learned from a PBS documentary that Wal-mart is a major contributing factor to the erosion of the manufacturing base in this country and our widening negative balance of trade, with more products imported than exported.
Wal-mart buys most of its products from China. Sam Walton, the founder of the company, had a firm policy of buying American. Unfortunately, Sam Walton, along with the rest of the world, has passed on.
I also learned that Wal-mart underpays its employees, despite making thirteen billion in profits in 2012. In addition, the company indirectly supports the policy of many foreign manufacturers paying their employees what amounts to slave wages to produce at prices low enough to satisfy Wal-mart.
Wal-mart also practices deceptive advertising. They promote low prices on loss leader items while many other items in the store match the prices of other major competitors. Wal-mart makes more profit on these items than their competitors due to their massive buying power, but the savings are not passed on to the consumer.
I concluded my remarks by saying in my opinion Wal-mart does not serve the public interest. The company does not contribute one iota to the standard of living of anyone in this country. Instead, Wal-mart detracts from our quality of life by making it harder to find a good-paying job or to own and operate an independent business, small or large. I embellished these remarks with one final stroke of the sword: “Wal-mart is a cancer growing steadily in developed and developing countries worldwide.”
The defense attorney just stood there behind his lectern in disbelief.
In trying to discern my motives for this outburst, I have yet to come up with a solid answer. Should I commend myself for telling the truth, or did I simply find a creative way to weasel out of jury duty? I honestly don’t know.
The name Miss Crisson fit her. Words come to mind, like “crisp,” “sharp,” “cross,” and “criticism.” I remember a six-foot tall, middle-aged woman with regular, Germanic features and wide, hazel eyes peering from behind big-rimmed glasses supported by a clunky plastic frame.
She wore an expression of perennial disappointment punctuated by frequent, angry outbursts. I thought then her mood was the direct result of our consistently delinquent behavior — the student body of Miss Crisson’s fifth grade class. Now I think there may have been other factors involved.
Miss Crisson did not carry her statuesque figure gracefully. Instead, she stood in an ungainly posture in front of the class, arms crossed, daring anyone to misbehave. She never seemed to feel comfortable inside her own skin, or perhaps the small print, cotton dresses she wore like uniforms were all a half size too small.
Looking back, I imagine men might have considered her sexy if she had dressed in a more colorful, modern style. Regular trips to the beauty parlor would have helped too. But she had no use for fashionable clothes or fixing herself up. Her thinning hair drooped in unenthusiastic curls. The humidity in the spring and early summer made the hair from the buns she wore march in a column down her neck like AWOL soldiers.
I recall her first name with great difficulty: It was, or is Doris. Is she still alive as we speak? She took great pains to keep us at a distance, in our place. Miss Crisson the teacher, the person in charge, we the students, there to obey.
It was not so much the things she did that I remember. It was rather the things she didn’t do. She never, for instance, sat on a chair in front of the class with her legs crossed, or in a more casual moment, on the side of her desk. She always stood, implacably, a permanent fixture in front of the class. She sat at her desk only during study periods, often holding her head while reading from her lesson plan or papers that looked to be terribly important. We spent six hours a day, Monday through Friday, with Miss Crisson, surely enough time to get to know someone well, at least enough time for her guard to fall occasionally. Yet, I can’t recall any informal moments with Miss Crisson, never the spontaneous joke or appreciative laugh from the student audience.
She never spoke of children or relatives. I never learned a thing about her personal life after spending a year in her classroom. Did she spend her childhood years in a middle class tract home at the mercy of bible-toting, God-fearing parents? Did her classmates taunt her for being too tall? As a teenager, did she have many boyfriends? Did she ever have a boyfriend? Did she eat dinner at home alone every night in a terry cloth bathrobe and slippers, her hair liberated from the customary bun, hanging in loopy strands? Did she sometimes wake up to an alarm buzzing from the bedroom, slumped on a sofa in front of the television?
Why do the cashiers at supermarkets insist on putting your groceries in as many bags as possible?
Do I look like I have five hands and three arms?
Do they think the load will be lighter if I carry fewer items in more bags?
Do they do it out of spite because they have crummy, low paying jobs?
The gross profit of supermarkets would go up at least 400 percent on average if they used fewer bags.
The other day I bought five items for eighteen dollars and thirty-seven cents. The bagger put each item in its own bag.
A pack of gum gets its own bag?
The plastic bags must have cost fifty cents. The same bags will cost a dollar next week with the way oil prices are going.
Why do baggers and cashiers do this? Here’s one theory.
Imagine a Store Manager giving these instructions to his cashiers before their shift:
“Remember not to overload those grocery bags. We just lost a lawsuit that cost us forty-two million dollars because a woman dropped a banana out of her overloaded bag, slipped, and dislocated her pelvis. The jury awarded punitive damages because the poor woman is unable to have sexual intercourse without shooting pains going down her legs.
“As you all know, every cashier is responsible for supervising their bagger. It is your job to insure all groceries are properly bagged, which is to say, not over-loaded.
“The forty two million is coming out of the offending cashier’s paycheck. So be careful. This could happen to you.”