Sunday, November 7, 2010
Days 1-2: THB goes to court
Day 1: November 1, 2010, SF Civic Center
Pics: Jury Duty notice, bike, sunrise, Bart, Civic Center art, court buildinig, Mangosteens, SF utility box, Oakland murals
US District Court Jury Duty: Told to show up at 7:45, which means they really don’t start until around 9am. THB arrives by riding his bike to West Oakland Bart and then Barting to Civic Center. Door to door is less than 40 minutes, and it is nice (and cool) in the morning just before sunrise.
57 potential jurors show up and at 10am we head to Judge Vaughn Walker’s courtroom (of Prop 8 fame) where 36 of us get pulled to the head to the courtroom; we squeeze into the 14 juror’s seats (actually, they don’t have to squeeze in) and the front two rows of the courtroom (in front of the bleachers, we do have to squeeze in). Then the entire 36 introduce themselves (THB is #31) one at a time using a mike, and give a brief bio: marital status, kids, what everyone does in the family, hobbies, education, etc. Only later does THB realize that his “hobbies” are really his everyday life since the list is pretty much what being in retirement means to him anyway: baseball, travel, baseball, reading, baseball, bridge, more travel, art, hiking, baseball, hibernating for the winter until baseball starts again.
The judge asks everyone a few more questions, nothing too tough since very few call out an answer other than the obvious “no, this doesn’t apply to me” and then we break for lunch. THB has brought his from home (THB will let no meal go unreported): leftover chicken and homemade cheese bread sandwiches, bottled tap water. Total cost: Zero
Back to the courtroom where now we move on to jury selection. This one is new to THB: The prosecutor and the defense attorney confer with their respective co-counsels and submit a list to the judge; the judge then reviews the list for the next 10 minutes or so, then he sends them back; the attorneys go through them again and then submit their lists again, and the judge again reviews them. Done! The jury has been selected without individual questioning of the jurors by the attorneys! The judge starts calling out names in the numerical order we’ve been sitting in, and as you’re called you get to sit in the corresponding 1 through 12 position in the jury box…12 are called, the 12th being #30, the guy on my right, phew, THB escapes to play another day. Damn, then he calls my name and the guy on my left, #32, and we get to be alternates 1 and 2. How did they pick us out of a crowd? THB didn’t see anything about what was said in the bio introductions that would’ve made him or any of us actually more or less likely to be called (okay, there were a few that were never going to be called, very few).
And now a few words about the demographics of the 57: damn, this ain’t like the courts in the East Bay! The US District Court pulls from all over northern California, and:
• There aren’t many old folks in this group
• There aren’t many Hispanics or Blacks, and maybe 15% Asians
• It looks like the 30 and 40 somethings are the majority of the people that live around here
And, to really make this case interesting, the defendant is representing himself!! That’s why the defense attorney didn’t look too polished. He’s charged with 3 counts of sending threats through the mail and one count of threatening someone related to a court appearance. And, he comes with two or three people that seem to be extras sitting near and not at the attorneys’ table; while never introduced, it appears that they are extra security focused on him.
We get a bit of an overview of the jury room: first off it doesn’t have 14 chairs. It seems crowded. The court clerk gives us an explanation of what to expect and answers the few questions asked. She passes out a prepared list of the days we might be in the courtroom, again not enough to go around. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought this was only her first or second week. Doubt that is true…who knows! The judge, rumor has it, is retiring in about 6 or 7 months, so maybe this is a substitute clerk. We’ll never know. We’re scheduled for Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, and then the following Wednesday. My guess: something to do with the judge’s schedule. Days are 8:30 to 3:30, which seems pretty good for me because I will be commuting just outside heavy commute hours, making finding a seat on Bart a lot easier.
The judge lets us go early, around 2, which is really nice because Game 5 of the World Series is on: THE GIANTS ARE WORLD CHAMPS!!!! THE GIANTS ARE WORLD CHAMPS!!!! THE GIANTS ARE WORLD CHAMPS!!!!
Day 2: November 2, 2010, SF Civic Center
Now we’re in the jury room awaiting the call to the courtroom. The room is tight, 4 of us sit in the back, can’t fit us all around the table. (Side note: the bathrooms are huge, maybe they had to make both of them handicapped; did there have to be two? do men have to have a urinal too?) The jury is basically a representation of the larger panel: (I think) I am the oldest by a few years and the only retiree (true), one is in her 20s (though, since she has an 11 year old daughter, can she be THAT young? she looks 23, maybe 24 tops), there are at least 6 that are around 30-35 or maybe a bit older, a few in their 40s, two around 50, another that might be in her late 50s, and all are either working or looking for work (out of the 57, there might have been 5-10 who had been working and now were not); one Black, one Hispanic; two engaged to be married (including the 24? year old). Only two of us that don’t periodically pull out phones or have them permanently in the right palm, and the other guy probably 50 and is out of work and not actively looking (I guess). Three people that never (and, I mean never) stop talking. A physical therapist that never stops stretching (or talking). No Asians. 8 men, 6 women.
The lead prosecution attorney is another young 30 something, and she looks more like an ultra thin marathoner than a US attorney used to dealing with hardened criminals. At her table, she has a (male) co-counsel (maybe in his late 30s, early 40s), someone from the FBI whose job is to go out in the hallway and get the witnesses, and a paralegal. They all sit facing us and at right angles to the judge. Same for the defense, they look like the second row from where we sit, and there are two of them: the defendant and his co-counsel, which is really just an advisor. She might be from the public defenders group, and might be in her late 20s (younger?).
The Marathoner starts with opening statement, and before she is two minutes into her presentation Judge Walker interrupts sternly to say that she must refer to the defendant as “in supervision”…gosh, I must not have been paying that close attention, what was it she really said about the guy? She looks hardly apologetic while apologizing to the judge while looking straight at the jury. Only later, basically from the defendant referring to himself, can we piece this together.
Side note: actually, I deduce what it is that Marathoner is not supposed to say, and assume so did the rest of the jury. Since we’re not allowed to talk to anyone about the trial while it is on, who knows what the rest are thinking or gleaning. And, we are allowed to take notes and some people appear to be doing a more word-for-word documentation of the procedures than the court reporter. THB, true to his nature of total recall (i.e., “impressionistic”) travel reporting, has not taken down a single word, his book is virginal.
The guy is in jail! Ah, that explains the “escorts” sitting around the court room. One of the jurors noted (like we all should have noticed) that they were packing heat. And, there is another guy sitting just to the right of the jury closer to the judge. He’s up on a little platform, wears a suit and tie, and is taking notes and following along as evidence is presented. Is he also packing? He does go in and out with the judge, so I assume he is the bailiff or judge-security. Why is he seemingly tracking the trial so closely?
The defendant/defense attorney, let’s call him Chuck, makes his opening statement and, though he isn’t all that articulate, gets the point across that he’s going to be using a diminished capacity defense. Hmmmmmm….as if representing himself isn’t enough to demonstrate that, he’s giving it just that special emphasis.
The first witness for the Marathoner is someone that runs a halfway house for addicts near UC Berkeley campus. She’s sixty. Her primary testimony other than placing Chuck in the facility in 2008 is to read the first of two letters he (allegedly) sent her, this one to the halfway house. The trial appears to be over: the letter is beyond a threat, it is enough to make everyone in the courtroom wish they never had heard it (as the director breaks down while she is reading it). THB is glad to be an alternate, does not even want to be around when the discussion starts over what the intent of letter was, or anything having to do with the letter or Chuck. Then she reads the second letter; it is worse than the first, even more threatening since this one is sent to her house and includes her unlisted home phone number. Diminished capacity?
Chuck does not try to call in to question whether he really was the guy that sent the letter, he spends his time trying to get the director to admit that he was jerked around and in a stressful state while at the halfway house before going AWOL and that the director somehow screwed up by calling his probation officer before he reappeared a few days later and that didn’t she realize he was not supposed to be sent back to jail. In the midst of all that, he’s giving up personal information about his background (this continues throughout the case, we learn way more about Chuck from Chuck than from the Marathoner).
The next witness is another woman, this time from the same town where Chuck’s mom lives, in Nevada. She’s 41, though looks older, in more of a matronly get-up, with two teenage kids and a foster child, living with her father in his house. She met Chuck through an on-line dating service (plentyoffish.com – TRUE!) and in a matter of days he’s moved in with her, stolen her truck and handgun and $200 and made off for Sacramento; she files a police report. Note to everyone, in case you missed it: on-line dating can be dangerous. Then she reads the letter Chuck sent her (he is not contesting he sent these letters), and is an ugly combo of the first two letters, and also threatens her teenagers and father. She does not break down while reading. In fact, if she had had her handgun returned, and could’ve brought it into court, the trial of Chuck would be over. Included in this letter is his admonishment she’s not to testify at his parole hearing, that must be why the fourth count (threatening a witness) is in place.
As documents are entered into evidence, they can be “published” such that the jurors can see them on the shared computer screens. And, the paralegal has the ability to “blow up” specific parts of the documents when the attorneys are referencing specific sections. Very impressive and positive use of technology!
THB has pho for lunch at Mangosteens, pretty good and a different version than most others, more beef stew-like, $7.50.
The rest of the day is spent with the prosecution bringing in jail, USPO (local) and FBI (from the East coast!) experts showing how the letters and envelopes came from Chuck while he was in the Santa Rita county jail. There are somewhere between 10 and 30 people at various times sitting in the gallery. Most appear to be students, most likely from the nearby Hastings law school.
The judge is bending over backwards to help Chuck with his defense, coaxing him into asking the right way the questions that get at the point he wants to make, leading him into putting into evidence documents he has at hand, and keeping a very upbeat tempo to his running of the courtroom. The jurors are very impressed, and so is THB.