I was called to jury duty recently and dutifully showed up early Monday morning for a day of tedious and repetitive questions during voir dire, which a friend of mine swears is French for jury tampering.
It was a lawsuit seeking damages over a car accident. The plaintiff’s attorney asked such inane questions as: What are you passionate about? There were responses about golf and sports betting and teaching and what not. I told him: The First Amendment and the public’s right to know, which set him back a bit. When he augered in, I explained that I’d been in journalism for decades and still freelanced a bit.
I unfortunately managed to survive the first day and returned for the second and cooled my heels with the other potential jurors for more than an hour as the wheels of justice ground to a halt behind closed doors.
Then the attorney got around to asking more pertinent questions about the jurors’ responsibility. He explained that in criminal cases the jury verdict must be beyond a reasonable doubt, but a jury in a civil case should award damages based on a preponderance of evidence, which he explained meant that damages should be awarded if 50.1 percent of the evidence favored such a verdict.
When he asked if anyone had a problem with that, I dutifully raised my hand. When asked, I said I would never publish a story if I knew there was a 50 percent chance it was wrong. I did not think that was what preponderance meant in the first place. A decision to wrest money away from one person to give to another on the basis of only 50.1 percent of evidence favoring it seemed tantamount to flipping a coin. I explained my decision-making process did not work that way and I could not imagine how 50.1 percent of a winning argument could be persuasive. The difference in the scales of justice is imperceptible.
I came close to saying that if that was what the law really said the law is a ass, but I thought better of it, suspecting the Dickens quote might not sit too well and just might get my ass in trouble.
A few minutes later I was kindly invited to hie my principled ass home.