I wanna be a non-juror

Roland Freisler, a famous and highly effective DA

Roland Freisler, a famous and highly effective DA

The gent shown above got a lot of convictions. I am surprised that his portrait does not hang, as an encouragement to up-and-coming assistant DAs, in the offices of Cyrus Vance, Junior, son of Jimmy Carter’s secretary of state. Junior is now the Manhattan DA, having replaced the unspeakable and nearly perennial Robert Morgenthau (who of course was the son of FDR’s wartime secretary of the treasury). Seems to be kind of a Duchy Of Cambridge, the DA’s office.

I am now, being a grand juror in New York County, an unpaid employee of the honorable Mr Vance, or so his paid understrappers seem to think. These ADAs are a very arrogant and unamiable bunch, for the most part, though there have been one or two exceptions.

I never liked prosecutors, and after four days on a grand jury, I like ’em even less.

They hate it that we common folk have any say at all in the indictment process. They do everything in their power to restrict our access to information. They get furious — they start to slam books down on the table, and use intemperate language — if we ask questions they don’t like. They insist — though I don’t believe they have any legal basis for this — that we whisper our questions for the witness in their ear, and then they decide whether to ask them or not. They refuse to pass on questions whose answers might tend to be exculpatory.

I asked such a question the other day, and the result was Beckettian: the ADA stood speechless for a good minute, then scurried away and consulted with another ADA. Their conversation took another four or five minutes. Meanwhile the witness is sitting there, looking like an egg slowly frying on a hot sidewalk.

Finally the ADA asked a question, but it was not the question I had asked, and the way it was phrased gave the witness a very clear signal as to what the answer should be.

This happens over and over. It is invading my dreams. Kafka, thou shouldst be living at this hour.

What’s even more interesting is my fellow common folks’ reaction to all this insanity. But that’s a subject for another post.

6 thoughts on “I wanna be a non-juror

    • I asked that question. They dodged. it. They said it’s not a matter of law but of ‘policy’. But I am a timid fellow and would rather not end up facing another grand jury — without me on it — on some trumped-up charge.

      So what I do instead is tell my colleagues, during deliberation, what question I asked and why I think the DA refused to pass it on. This has led to some fun conversations.

  1. Mind you, I’ve never been called for a grand jury, so I have no idea what the whole grand jury scene is like, even here in DC, but I can’t help wondering: have you ever thought of pulling an Earl Weaver — you know, purposely getting yourself ejected from the game by getting really obnoxious at the umpire?

    Perhaps you could request some really silly-assed questions, like “Who is buried in Grant’s Tomb?” or “Is the liver a muscle or an organ?” or “Who put the sham in the shamalamadingdong?” or “Who put the tribbles in the quadratritocale, and what was in the grain that killed them?”

    Just thinkin’.

    • The very worst one — to my suprise — was a she, not a he. She scolded us like a particularly ungifted schooltecher.

      Though the he’s have been pretty bad too — it was a he who slammed the books down, and another he who mocked me when I asked under what circumstances a photo was taken. Well, he said, if you want to believe they were making a movie, that is your privilege. This snide response was subsituted for a factual answer.

      • Thinking back on my “grand” experience, I do one recall that the ADAs — with a couple notable and refreshing exceptions —- were condescending, flippant, rude, and even mocking. What they thought conferred their superiority eluded me. And being obnoxious to people who are compelled to be there was particularly unseemly.

        It was a chatty freelance stenographer, though, who wonderfully filled us in on how the System works, when the attorneys were out of the room. She explained in the classic patois of my native Brooklyn that the ADAs essentially throw as many shit charges at a defendant as they can fling, in the hopes of bullying him nyo a plea bargain. This friendly young woman did us all a service, and restored my faith in people’s willingness to flout protocols and Tell It Like It Is, rules be damned. Dandy little anarchist that typist was!

        Mixed feelings about my fellow jurors. Some earnest to a wince-making degree. Most far too trusting of police authority. But many nonetheless properly jaded and even a bit SMBIVAn in their skepticism of the bullshit being presented to us.

Leave a Reply