On Friday, I stopped by my favorite grocery story to get some things my family needed. It had been a long week and I was ready for the weekend to arrive. I hadn’t been at work; rather, I spent Monday through Thursday evening on jury duty. I moved briskly from the paper goods aisle to the bread aisle when I tripped. It wasn’t so bad that I fell down, but it was enough for me to look down to see what caused my stumble. There it was: a big red garden hose running the length of the store from the ice cream display in the front to the back of the store. The hose was kind of tangled at my feet, twisted like garden hoses do sometime. Now normally I wouldn’t have thought much about it, but 30 minutes out of jury deliberations with 11 other citizens made me look at the hose in a different way. Reasonable expectations -- I learned about those this week.
I figured I’d get tossed out of any jury selection process faster than a lawyer could say “strike.” But they called my name, along with about 25 others, and took us into Jefferson County Circuit Court and started asking us questions such as “Have any of you ever driven a truck?” or “Have you served in the military?” General questions, but you quickly figured out that they wanted to know how you think, how you developed your beliefs and values, what makes you tick. Then they chose 13 people to sit on the jury of a civil case involving personal injury and liability. And as quick as that, I found myself sitting front row and center in a wooden, swivel chair which became my home for days. 12 of us would decide a case that was pretty important to quite a few people.
Some attorney friends of mine sent me e-mails and text messages that they could have gotten me out of jury duty, but I told them I really don’t want to get out of it. I’d rather have a normal week, anchor my newscast and go home, but to get out jury duty or escape from it wasn’t what I wanted. When I hear about some decisions made by some juries I think, “What a bunch of morons, how could they come to that conclusion?” So, I figure when I’m called to serve on jury duty the least I can do is go, do my best and be a part of the most fair and workable legal system on the planet. And so I did.
I changed my mind three times during the case. The attorneys were very good, both sides were well-prepared, well-spoken and seemed compassionate about the facts in the case as they were charged to litigate them.
When you go to the grocery store you have a reasonable expectation that you can walk down every aisle safely. It is reasonable to expect them to be free of clutter, like a balled-up garden hose. The store is required to take reasonable action to ensure you are safe while shopping. Now, if you trip over your own feet or walk where you’re not supposed to be, then the store can’t be at fault. That gets to personal responsibility, one of my all-time favorite stumps to preach from.
To the best of my knowledge, no one lied on the witness stand in the trial I witnessed. People see and remember things differently, and finally a jury has to decide a case with a judgment of witness credibility and common sense. I think we did that; in fact, I’m very confident we did.
Back at my favorite grocery store, I asked one of my favorite managers to come over to the bread aisle and I told him that normally this balled-up garden hose wouldn’t have even registered in my brain as anything important, but today it did. In a flash, warning signs were placed at both ends of the aisle. If someone else tripped over that hose, they would do it after receiving adequate warning that potential danger was just ahead. I felt all warm and fuzzy and I am confident I must have saved tens of people from my community from danger, and saved my favorite grocery store a lawsuit that would tie up attorneys and 12 citizens for a week or more.
As a footnote, I would add if you’re called to jury duty, go. They need more smart and fair people like you to bring justice when justice is sorely needed. And when you serve, I hope you might be fortunate enough to be taken to Judge William Nobel’s courtroom here in Jefferson County. His fairness, patience and courtroom manner are valuable assets that all taxpayers should know about and appreciate.
I’ll see you tonight at 5:00, 6:00 and 10:00 p.m.
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