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misce stultitiam consiliis brevem

My civic obligation–the Great Game of Mafia

Hello, I just got back from 11 days of being at the beck and call of the Suffolk Superior Court. Specifically, 1 day of jury impanelment, 4+ days of evidence, and 4 full days of deliberations. And a couple times we got to leave early.

Yes: jury duty! This was my first summons, and I was very excited. Even throughout the real trial (hearing the evidence) I kept jumping in my seat thinking, “This is really happening!” Deliberations, however, were both much more and much less than I had expected. More time, certainly, but less histrionics; more conversation, and less changing of minds; more philosophy, but less idealism. In essence, these deliberations comprised the greatest game of Mafia I have played since 1998.

It was a civil case, breach of contract. That’s all I’ve been telling people for the past more than two weeks, and somehow I don’t feel like giving more specifics even now that I am allowed to. Let’s just say that we made sure everybody got shafted. To some extent, that includes every member of this jury.

And yet I’m so happy about having had this experience.  And I even can’t wait until the next time I’m eligible to be called (probably after I move away from Boston, as it happens).  I want to do it all again–new facts, new evidence, new people, new chance!  New chance for each of us to keep some more of our ideals.

Today nerves and patience started fraying.  I came in hoping that we could step away from the content of our issues and focus more on the procedures.  That’s something I learned about myself (partially in contrast to some of my juror-colleagues) yesterday: I am process-oriented as opposed to goal-oriented.  My opinion fluxuated over the course of the deliberations.  I voted “yes,” “no,” and several rounds of “maybe.”  And that was how I felt it should be, because the important part to me was the collective ‘wisdom’ of the group, the trends.  I’m not saying I voted majority for the sake of majority, but rather that I trusted that, if we kept our heads as clear and calm as possible and honored the flow of information and interpretation, that we would come up with an answer that was greater (and possibly different) from the simple sum of our individual opinions.  On the final day of deliberations some of the others laid it straight on the table that they knew what they knew and that they were not going to change.  I was disappointed with that concept, though I didn’t put it in those terms to them.  Given what everyone else knew/believed/interpreted, how could I be cetain that what I “knew” was what was?

The verdict we eventually delivered was explicitly (and only half justifiably) a compromise.  We needed 11 of 13 jurors to agree before we could go back to the courtroom, and we got that exactly (i.e. the group minus the people who held firm).  We told each other that this was what the parties to the lawsuit would have expected–and gotten–anyway.  Maybe not that dollar figure, but something less than what the plaintiff asked for, and more than what the defendant wanted to settle for.

So it goes.  And now that I’ve had a night to sleep it over (after an evening of zombie-shuffling about post-courthouse) I can say again it was really cool.  So don’t assume you want to “get out of” jury duty next time you get summonsed!

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