Let justice be done

Last week I didn't find time to blog partly because I was on jury duty from Monday to Thursday. I went in enthusiastic about the US jury system, came out much more dubious.

This was a civil case, a 6-person jury to decide a claim for money damages against the city (New York) and Con Edison for defects alleged to have caused a man to fall and injure himself. My co-jurors and I got along well (they elected me foreman), and I think we deliberated as fairly as possible on the evidence we had, but I'm not at all sure that the result was the most just.

Ours is an adversarial system between trial lawyers, and the plaintiff's lawyer was clearly overmatched -- we jurors had lots of further questions that we couldn't answer, because only the lawyers get to question witnesses. There is also the well-known problem of the dynamics in the jury room; one very stubborn personality can change the outcome. This was not what happened in our case, mainly because we had too many stubborn and strong personalities -- whaddaya expect? This is New York -- so nobody was intimidated, but it was easy to see how that could happen. This brief experience has re-awakened my curiosity about comparative legal systems & trial procedures, from Islamic courts to the Napoleonic Code to English common law. This may be the theme for my next project, after I get through with my current work on cities and architecture in Latin America, which has still a ways to go.

Curious coincidence: Speaking of trial procedure, I've just been invited to submit a small claims case I have pending to the TV show "The People's Court." What a weird idea! I've never seen the show, but I plan to watch today before I reply.

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