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John P. McCann (writing also as JP Mac) is a veteran TV animation scribe sharing fake movie reviews, stories, project updates, animation tidbits and other keyword related items.
Friday, September 30, 2011
Unreasonable Doubt VI: Count Down
Over the weekend my mother-in-law moved into a nearby apartment. Saturday and Sunday were spent helping her settle in, going out to dinner, and using her presence as a general excuse to avoid writing anything. For the most part I left the trial downtown. However I did dream Sunday night that I tried to buy a movie ticket in a suit minus socks.
On Monday I carpooled to court with a fellow juror. He worked at Jet Propulsion Laboratories installing microwave electrical smart things into a probe that’s Jupiter bound in a few years. As he explained the project I prompted him with incisive questions such as, “Will your probe deploy a ray of some kind to defend against moon people?”
In turn, he asked me about TV animation and working on Animaniacs. I mentioned that most of our staff writers as well as the senior producer and his assistants smoked cigarettes back then. It was like writing a cartoon under a Vegas crap table—fun, exciting with sudden outbursts of yelling, but smoke really does get in your eyes.
Disney Center where they really know how to park cars.
Downtown in the Disney Center parking lot we ran into one of our alternate jurors—the actress/model. Together, the three of us walked north on Grand Avenue past German tourists snapping photos of a magazine photo shoot busy using the Disney Center as backdrop.
Along with the other alternate—the financial planner—the actress had sat through the whole muttered Korean trial. Now the pair was shutout of deliberations. Banished to the marble benches outside Department 46, our alternates were compelled to wait for the chosen 12 to stitch together decisions on seven counts. To be an alternate was to have dinner without dessert; fore play minus carnal festivities. They were the extras of the legal system.
At the Criminal Court's Building we passed through security, waited for elevators, wriggled our way into a car and arrived finally at the 7thFloor. Counts 4, 6 and 7 waited ahead like crows on a telephone wire.
In the jury room, the Friday frenzy had evaporated. If showing up on Monday would wreck plans, then those plans were already wrecked. We were here and there was nothing else to do but finish.
Our foreman got the ball rolling. She’d thought matters through over the weekend. Having considered both stories, she’d come to accept the wife’s version of events. In her view, Mr. Pak was guilty on all three remaining counts.
“Would anyone else care to comment?”
Here was an encouraging start. I pointed out that Mr. Pak had demonstrated in count 3 that he wasn’t keen on having cops called. He stood accused of nothing in count 4 that was out of character. I believed him guilty.
One of the psychologists was skeptical, feeling there were elements unsaid about the wife that made her culpable in unknown ways.
Back and forth volleyed rationalists and psychologists with the occasional remark thrown in from the silent minority. (“I think there are crickets outside my bedroom window.”)
Twenty minutes passed. Sensing discussion tapering off, the foreman called for a vote on count 4.
Once again, the count was 11 to 1—
—this time for conviction.
Holding out for acquittal was the regular businessman.
Here was headline news. He'd been a rationalist stalwart, the man who’d eased the pressure when I was a hold out. Now he’d flipped utterly to the psychologists.
"I'm just not sure the husband can be guilty of intimidating her, especially when she already said she wouldn't call the police."
A rationalist countered, “The guy just beat and smothered the woman. Then he kicked open the bathroom door and snatched her phone. That’s kinda freaking intimidating.”
“Also she testified as to confusion over who she’d call,”said a psychologist, adding, “if you believe her.”
“Let’s get the transcript,” said another rationalist a bit too helpfully.
That would be like having a fighter on the ropes then pausing to call for a reading of the rulebook. Rationalists and psychologists spoke up, claiming a general sense that the wife wasn’t sure who’d she call.
An impatient psychologist blurted out, “Can we vote again?"
"I believe more time is needed," said the foreman.
Good call. The regular businessman was wavering but might dig in like a badger if he thought we were high-pressuring him.
A few more minutes passed with rationalists and psychologists, respectfully but persistently, double-teaming the holdout.
Finally, the point was made once again that events in the bathroom had nothing to do with anything the wife thought and everything to do with the husband’s actions.
Sensing an opening, the foreman called for another vote on count 4.
12 – 0—guilty.
Two more counts remained.
Count six involved damaging the wife’s cell phone. Count seven dealt somehow with crime and cell phones. The way the counts were worded, it seemed that if you’d sunk Mr. Pak on 4, then 6 and 7 pretty much rolled into the pocket on their own.
There was light deliberation. You sensed that, as a jury, our flag-planting moments had passed.
On the first vote we found the defendant guilty on count 6.
Same procedure and outcome for count 7.
We were almost finished.
The bailiff was summoned by pressing the little button on the wall twice. The foreman filled out her paperwork while the court sent out word for attorneys and clients to reassemble back in Department 46.
I'd seen it on a thousand courtroom dramas, but now I was a member of the jury filing into the courtroom. Last in line, I fumbled around turning off my cell phone before sitting. We had guests today—two men and a woman in suits; lawyers I guessed because they had those wheeled briefcases that looked like carry-on luggage. There was also a young Korean guy wearing a ball cap, which he never removed, slouched on a backbench. In addition, a well-muscled sheriff’s deputy stood near the bailiff, eyes on the defendant.
All our regulars were present. The city attorney had a sheet of paper on the table before her, fingers clasped around a pen as if primed to record the box score.
Moments later: “We the People in the above entitled action find the defendant…”
Unlike the movies, the defendant didn't stand. He took his half-dozen guilties and one acquittal without visible emotion. However his attorney seemed devastated, shoulders hunched, hands clasped, staring straight ahead as if he’d bet his own fingers and toes on the outcome.
Head down, the city attorney quietly marked her paper after every count.
And then it was over.
No one wanted to poll the jury. The judge thanked us for our service and we headed off to the 5th floor to sign out. I wondered what would happen to the defendant. Oddly enough, time in county jail was a fitting punishment for spousal abuse since you’d spend your waking hours in fear of physical violence.
(Note: Now that I think of it, jail time is unlikely. Due to a Supreme Court ruling, California is decanting convicts from state prisons into county jails to relieve overcrowding. At the same time, the state is granting early release to county inmates. Unfortunately, they’re not releasing them into the neighborhoods of the Supreme Court justices who voted for this game of criminal musical chairs.)
The following week, I received my jury pay of $15 a day plus gas mileage. Seeing the County of Los Angeles move that quickly was like witnessing a glacier sprint a hundred meters. In addition, the judge sent a hand-written letter thanking me for my time in People vs. Pak, noting that the system only worked because people such as myself honored their commitment to serve.
It had been tedious, a time-suck, with tense moments spent coming to agreement with total strangers on the fate of another stranger. On Friday, our desire to resume our lives had clashed with the job at hand. We’d found Mr. Pak guilty on three biggies, so how much justice was necessary?
I believe the weekend arrived just in time. On Monday we were ready to properly see matters out. Calmer, our deliberations went faster and we finished much quicker than many of us had hoped. Six guilty counts seemed about right.
So back to my life.
Perhaps in a year or so I’ll get another summons. Maybe next time, instead of a library book, I’ll carry a Kindle. And if I’m called for a panel, I’ll report knowing what lies ahead in the jury room, neither fearing nor regretting an opportunity to be of service to my city.