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Not a venireman this time

My number wasn’t called.

I had hoped to be on jury duty today. Having just started on a biography of Judge Learned Hand, I looked forward to a whole day in the quiet room to make some progress with it. But they only summoned jurors up to number 600, and I was above that.

The reason I felt assured of a day in the quiet room is that I, as an older white guy wearing a suit and a bow tie, have better odds of being elected a bishop* than serving on a Baltimore jury.

(Oh, there was one occasion a couple of years ago when I was selected. I found out, when the defense attorney talked to us in the hallway after the acquittal, that she wanted a journalist on the panel to be assured that someone would be skeptical about the thin evidence the prosecution was presenting. Odd that she didn’t seem to understand that all Baltimore juries are skeptical of police evidence.)

That attorneys for defendants, usually African-American, would exclude me looks suspiciously like racial profiling—white guy + gray hair + suit + bow tie = racist. But in the absence of those jury consultants whom only the wealthy can afford, it seems likely that prosecution and defense attorneys rely on stereotypes.

Years ago, Clarence Darrow wrote an article for Esquire on the science of picking a jury that relied on the crudest of stereotypes. Defense attorneys should pick Catholics and Jews, he wrote, because they are emotional and easily swayed. He may have been puckish—avoid Presbyterians, he advised, because they know right from wrong but seldom find anything right—but he knew his craft.

No doubt my readers at the bar can advise whether the science has advanced much since Darrow’s day.

In the meantime, I will instead be going in to the plant this afternoon. Time to make the paragraphs.


*Nolo episcopari.



Posted by John McIntyre at 9:45 AM | | Comments (12)


Are you reading Gerald Gunther's Hand biography? It's an excellent read.

As for picking a jury, one of my old law partners would offer to opposing counsel to take the first twelve in the box, sight unseen. They never took him up on it.

Years ago I asked one of our state senators to submit a bill stipulating that journalists be added to the list of exempted job classifications, not because I wished to avoid jury duty, but because I knew no lawyer would pick me. The bill never made it out of committee, so I continued to show up, never to be selected.

John, the bow tie probably functions as selection insurance around here. But I heard one of my heroes, federal district judge Robert Merhige of Richmond, scold a roomful of lawyers for making an unnecessary science of jury selection, noting that, as a trial lawyer, "I just picked the guys in the bow ties."

From the Cecil Whig today:

County considers ‘sister city’ relationship with Indonesia.

County isn't a city. Indonesia is not a city. But that doesn't matter. I just hope the entire population of the sister city doesn't form a delegation to visit Elkton.

More sinister Muslim influence, I daresay.

Newspaper pal going through a voir dire some years ago:

LAWYER: Do you know anybody in courtroom?
REPORTER: The judge.
JUDGE: How do you know me?
REPORTER: I covered the legislative hearing where they were thinking about throwing you off the bench.

Classic, Callahan.

I, too, was dismissed today, and feel vaguely inadequate as a result.

Maybe it's the book. My husband insists that my not being selected for jury service some years ago was due to my choice of reading material: "Crime and Punishment" and Kafka's "Trial." (In my city we have to show up twice to be rejected.)

I had to sit there long enough to read and enjoy quite a bit of both books, which I then finished.

Every year, when I report for jury duty, I take a book to read in case no one wants to talk to me. (Hard to believe, I know!)

Interestingly, I find that while men sleep, watch the movie (Do they show anything in the jury room but one of the Fokker series? Does anyone watch that on purpose??) or (a very few) read, women tend to bond over kids, neighborhoods and general silliness with some sadnesses shared with strangers. Toward the end of the day, The silliness wins out.

One more note: Really, men. Never wear sweats to the courthouse. Have some pride. No backside is enhanced by fleece. There are some sights none of us deserve to see.

I too take a book for my annual city courtroom visit. At the last one, almost 900 people had been called, so I couldn't squeeze into the quiet room and instead had an installment of that Fokker cinematic series blaring as I read. I've never been selected and never will be -- too many tales from my past that upset the judge and attorneys. Last time, I took notes in a reporter's notebook for a possible blog post, half hoping to be scolded as I waited in line to approach the bench.

Eve, the last time I reported for duty most of the men were busy plugging in to work (or what appeared to be work) using one device or another. But maybe that's because I live in the county. Are you in the city?

At the Mitchell Courthouse, no one seems to plug-in. It's very different from when I lived in the county and went to Towson.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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