Saturday, June 10, 2006

The first time I was called for jury duty, I thought that meant I would serve on a jury, and had all kinds of unneeded emotions about that.

That was when I lived in Marin, and 4 out of 5 times I got called for jury duty in affluent not very crimish Marin, we, the people, the prospective jurors, just sat in the way-too-small jury waiting room for a morning, or a morning a part of an afternoon while the sides in a civil suit, faced with the prospect of independent and unpredictable judgement, settled. That was easy, not interesting. Not enough air in that room.

There's this other way I've done jury duty where you actually get in a courtroom and go through jury selection.

One time when I was going through jury selection, I was using some of it many pauses to read "Cancer Ward" by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Alternately I was reading that book and listening to the jury selection process, hoping that the best outcome would happen and that the best outcome would involve me not being a jury.

I was surprised by "Cancer Ward" partly because it's fairly easy to read and partly because it is partly about due process. Reading that book during jury selection kept me from wishing the pure "Not me" wish. Due process is good--I can't just purely and simply wish to not be part of it.

I admired Solzhenitsyn for making his book a good read. He couldn't possibly have been published in the Soviet Union at the time he wrote the book, but he made it readable by Moscow subway riders anyway. He was mindful of the people, and keeping the reading moving, for them, and for me.

The cancer ward itself in the book, has eight people in it, some dirt poor, some in the middle, and one privileged government worker who can't believe he's here, in this ward with everyone else.

His wife immediately tries to bribe the doctors to get him a private room and better treatement, but as they explain, they don't do that. They give everyone good treatment and everyone is in wards.

He's in shock that he's in the ward with poor people, with not Russians, and out in the sticks, not in Moscow. He's used to going in the special life, getting the special goods.

This hospital has integrity and he's not used to dealing with institutions that have integrity. It's all the government in the Soviet Union in 1956. He works for the government; it's a government hospital, but they are doing working for the government differently than he does.

The cancer ward gives good treatment. Many people die anyway--it's cancer, it's 1956--but they are giving it their best shot. The equipment is old and needs to be coddled. The doctors are smart, well-trained and excellent. The doctors are all women except for cheif surgeon, and the doctors clearly presented as the best doctor is a woman.

The government official has a tumor on the side of his neck that is visible and visibly growing, almost day by day. He's scared. He doesn't know how to use his privilege to help himself, because he has no privilege here.

We spend more than a hundred pages with this guy and the other patients in the ward before we get what this guy does in his government job.

He locks people up. He locks people up for being subversive, anti-government, saying bad words, thinking bad thoughts. He makes the choice and they go to Siberia for 10 or twenty years.

The first time he did that was when he and his wife and a couple they had been friends with were sharing an apartment and the wives started not getting along.

So this guy made a false report that the other guy, the apartment mate who still thought they were friends, had said something anti-government and bad. He reported that he had said the treason flavor of the month thing, that he had said he supported a newly repressed way of thinking. Which he hadn't.

One reason the governement worker feels bad in addition to the tumor is that it is now much later and time for his old friend to get out of prison. He imagines him young and strong and coming after him. Solzhenisyn points out that he isn't accurately imagining what 15 years in Siberian prison will do to change of person.

After he did that to his friend, he did that to lots of people. Perhaps weaving a web of paper to make them look jailable, perhaps just making stuff up raw, off-the-cuff.

He did not go forth in a car and haul these people in. He decided; it got routinely approved by those above and people were off to Siberia for a long time. Others did the physical work of locking those he selected up. He was judge and jury, shuffling papers and his mood of the day at his desk.

There's a chapter in which Solzhenitsyn, who was locked up in this manner, describes what the guy did at his job and describes how his tumor keeps growing day by day. That chapter is called "Justice."

That's the problem in a nutshell--when justice is you make up that horrible things happen to them that did wrong, that isn't justice.

Rules and procedures that are tested and agreed on and trying to be fair are good. Getting lots of people involved is good, so it isn't one guy, one day, one piece of paper, and so much for your life.

I've never been invested at all in a district attorney before. I like Kamala Harris because she's seems competent, because she's a woman, because she's diverse (one Jamaican background parent, one South Asian parent, I think) and because I was extremely through with her predecesor. She was a delightful "no" vote.

So now I read stuff in the paper about whether the DA is doing a good job. I used to would have skipped that.

The news tends to imply that a good job for a DA would be that everyone arrested is charged and found guilty, or that everyone who is charged is found guilty.

I read in the Financial Times that in Russia today, in criminal trials, 99% of the verdicts are guilty. When I read that I didn't think, "They must have really excellent prosecutors over there." They don't have juries; they've changed from Soviet days, but not enough. Someone who started out there as a good prosecutor--why bother? Whatever the deal is for prosecutors, it sounds like it could be too close to the old days where someone, a prosecutor or someone else, decides whose guilty, and that's it.

One thing I learned from all those Marin cases where I showed up as a possible juror and they settled rather than face the likes of me was that the prescence of a possible jury focuses everyone's mind wonderfully. Whatever they thought of how great their case was before they were sitting in the same building with the people who would be the actual jurors in an actual trial of there case, suddenly they weren't so sure.

People who sit in an office and decide whose going to be locked up and only have to talk to very sympathetic co-workers about that never get that clarity.

They've convinced themselves that a person has done bad, and they don't have to think about how the case for this person having done bad would look to a bunch of people in general chosen randomly and sifted slightly through lawyer chess. The rush to settle I happened to be around in those civil cases made me think that the case can look really different looked at in that light.

Of course, in those cases, it's only money. When somebody might be locked up, settling is a different thing.

When somebody might get locked up, it is a good thing for one and all that the process be public, that lawyers face the jury, and that twelve strangers who'd mostly rather be elsewhere decide. Rather than one guy in a room with papers deciding, without anyone knowing how he decides, without consequences for him.

So I don't want to serve on a jury. So what? I can never make any effort to escape it.