My dad sent me an email note last week telling me he’d been selected for jury duty. For a moment, I was jealous. I’ve been called for jury duty three times and selected once. The one trial I was selected for was nearly twenty years ago, but it was so entertaining, I’ve looked forward to doing it again ever since. Dad wasn’t so lucky. His services were required for a civil trial between a flatwork contractor and a wealthy homeowner in the Tucson foothills who didn’t want to pay for the 2,700 square feet of concrete the contractor had poured…probably because the homeowner had over-extended himself building a multi-million dollar shrine to himself…but that’s just a guess. In any case, the jury deliberated less than five minutes before ordering the homeowner to pay up. Borrrring.
The civil trial that I served as a juror for involved a car full of lawyers from a prominent Midwestern law firm, a moon-less night, a hilly two-lane county road in the middle of the Flint Hills (cattle country, for those of y’all who ain’t from these parts), and a lone black bull standing smack in the middle of that dark, deserted road.
In all honesty, I don’t recall the specifics of why the big-city lawyers were out in the middle of the Flint Hills in the dead of night, but it’s ultimately unimportant. The fact was that they were…and so was the bull. All the lawyers in the car–as I recall, there were four–claimed the driver was going the speed limit when they crested a hill that night and found an enormous black bull staring back at them in their headlights, a claim that would be debated hotly during the trial. Anyway, the driver swerved to miss the huge animal, careened through a ditch, and came to rest against a fence.
Fortunately, the bull escaped unscathed, but the lawyers weren’t so lucky. Three of them had minor injuries requiring a visit to the local emergency room, but one guy was hurt badly enough that he had to be brought back to Kansas City in an ambulance. Please note, this is the one part of the story that I do not think is funny. But he recovered, so…
Because the injured were lawyers, it would naturally follow that there would be a lawsuit. And there was. Specifically a lawsuit against the rancher who owned the bull. The lawyers claimed the rancher was negligent for “allowing” the bull out onto the road, so they were suing for the pain and suffering, blah, blah, blah caused by the accident resulting from said bull in the road. Sigh.
For one whole day and part of the next, we listened to repetitive testimony from local law enforcement officials, the rancher, and even experts hired by the prosecution to prove the rancher’s negligence, none of whom ever managed to find any breaks or weak spots in the fence surrounding the pen where the bull was kept. Moreover, none of them could provide a rational explanation as to why the other six or seven bulls kept in the same pen were still there at the time of the accident. Points to the defense.
For another day and a half, we listened to expert testimony about the particulars of the accident itself. First from a former highway patrolman who, at the time of the trial, was making his living by recreating accidents and providing details for whomever needed the information. In this case, the information was incredibly interesting. The facts, in a nutshell, presented via nifty charts, pictures, and drawings: one, the car left the road and traveled sideways (called yawing, I learned) for nearly 200 yards through an unmown ditch before slamming into the fence; two, the ditch was full of tall weeds, sizable seedlings, large rocks, and ruts.
The highway patrolman’s conclusion: the car was traveling between 85 and 90 mph when it left the road. Ooooo. Well over the posted speed limit and way beyond what any reasonable driver with gray matter between his ears would attempt under similar conditions.
But hold on. The prosecution had an expert witness, a rumpled college physics professor, who was supposed to take the stand and refute the facts and the patrolman’s conclusion. Not too surprisingly, the poor guy was smart enough not to attempt refuting the facts, but he gamely and vehemently argued against the conclusion. He didn’t present any evidence to support his argument, but he argued nonetheless. It was all very dramatic, very Perry Mason-ish. But very lame. Again, points to the defense.
Now, the best part of the trial, the part that made it worth sitting through nearly four days of testimony about fences, bovine behavior, tire tracks, yawing, and culpability…oh, this is sooo good…after a long break on the afternoon of the fourth day, the judge turned to the jury, removed his glasses, wiped his forehead, and informed us wearily that a new wrinkle had been added to the case. Apparently, the wife of the lawyer who was brought back to the city by ambulance–the lawyer I will now refer to as Tiny Johnson because I don’t remember his real name–wanted to add one more claim to the suit. She wanted to sue the rancher for a quarter of million dollars for loss of conjugal relations for the eighteen months since the accident. I suppressed an audible snort. There was noooooo way ol’ Tiny was worth that kind of loot, and everyone in the courtroom knew it. It took every ounce of self-control to suppress the laughter that was struggling to erupt. But I managed it, and I mentally patted myself on the back for being such a grown up.
Well apparently, I congratulated myself too soon. After we came back with a verdict of “not guilty” (for any of it) and the judge had thanked and then dismissed us, the court reporter came up to me and asked, “Do you play poker?”
Startled, I mumbled, “Ummm, no.”
“Good. You’d be a lousy poker player,” she smiled. “Your face gave away everything you were thinking. Thanks for making this trial so much fun.” And she walked away before I could say anything else.
“Good to know,” I thought to myself, but, “Ye, gods, how embarrassing.” Then I thought about Tiny, his cronies, and the Mrs. Now that’s embarrassing.