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."

Unreasonable doubt.

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.

Unless the case requires muttering translators.

Then forget it. I'm faking a heart attack.

In the Beginning: Unreasonable Doubt I of VI &

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Silencing Your Inner Critic: Five Ways

When I worked at a magazine my editor once labeled writer's block as "paralysis due to endless possibilities." And nothing jams up the flow like our inner critic telling us our prose is dull, treacly and weak. Writer and publishing coach Daphne Gray-Grant offers scribes a few tips on how to shut up that silent scold and crank copy out onto the screen where it properly belongs.

I've reprinted Daphne's free weekly email (giving credit below, for it is due.)

 5 ways to get your inner critic to shut up
One of my 17-year-old daughters sometimes slaps the side of her own head and says, "stupid, stupid." I don't think anyone -- particularly not one of my kids -- should ever call themselves stupid. But I see writers doing it all the time.

Admit it. You're probably your own harshest critic. By your standards, your writing is never interesting enough. Or persuasive enough. Or well organized enough. In fact, while you're in the middle of the act of writing a voice inside your head is often saying things like: "My boss is going to go crazy when seeing this article." Or, "why would anyone want to read this piece of dreck?" Or, "my sources are going to be so pissed off when they find out which quotes I've used."

Don't you think it's time to tell you inner critic to shut up? Here are five tips for quietening that supremely unhelpful voice:

1) Stop thinking about HOW your work is going to turn out and focus instead on WHAT you are writing. Your job as a writer is to write. When you write, write. When you edit, edit. Don't ever mix up these two entirely separate tasks or you are dooming yourself to remain a slow, pained writer.

2) If, like many people, including me, you have a hard time stopping yourself from editing while you write, resolve to make writing without editing your next project. (I stopped editing while I wrote about 10 years ago and it changed my life.) Try turning off your monitor (or, hanging a dishtowel over it) so you can't see what you're writing. If that seems too drastic, here's a trick I found on Richard Shackcloth's blog (which, sadly, seems to be dormant now): use a hashtag # whenever you spot something you want to fix later. (I love that he describes this as a promissory note!) Furthermore, if something specific occurs to you that you're afraid of forgetting about then write #note: and explain what you want to remember. For example: #note: make sure the VP is really okay with this. Or #note: check spelling. By making this promise to your inner critic you should be able to persuade him or her to become silent.

3) Write with a loud timer clicking in the background. This advice initially seemed counterintuitive to me and I always did my pomodoros with a silent digital timer tracking the minutes. But recently I've discovered the joy of what a friend of mine likes to call "the wall of sound." Something about the ticking not only serves to remind me that I need to be writing (this keeps me off email and the Internet) but it also serves to distract part of my brain so that I simply don't have the mental RAM for self-criticism. You can find "noisy" timers on the Internet or get a kitchen timer from a dollar store.

4) Use Write or Die. I've written about this website before  and urge you again to try it. Simply enter your desired word count, and your self-imposed time limit into the fr/ee software and when you stop writing for more than 10 seconds you'll be "punished" with a screen that changes colour and, following that, by a loud, unpleasant noise. This turns writing into a game, which is a great way of silencing your inner critic. (Critics abhor games.)

5) Put an elastic band on your wrist and snap it every time a self-critical thought goes through your head. For a split second you will have left behind  worries about your writing and shifted them to the (mild) pain on your wrist. This creates the space for you to refocus on your writing.

Remember, your inner critic will have plenty of time to comment when you begin to edit. And at that point those comments may even be useful. But when you are writing, you inner critic should shut the heck up.  
Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of the popular book 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a brief and free weekly newsletter on her website. Subscribe by going to the Publication Coach.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Unreasonable Doubt V: Lather, Repeat, Rinse

(Deliberations get sloppy after I hang the jury on count 4.)

Twenty-two pairs of eyes watched to see what inane, bumbling excuse I would present.

"Lots of things were said about the wife," I began, "but isn't the count of intimidation about the husband?"

Nothing for a moment. I glanced down at the table, wondering if I'd fold like the Red Sox in September.

"Oh, maybe it is," said the regular businessman.

I wanted to give him a big man hug.

"Okay, then let's discuss this," said the foreman.

Just as we got underway, the bailiff strolled back in. "Judge says you've got 20 more minutes."

With four counts remaining that worked out to five minutes a count. This set off a frenzy of deliberation and cross-talk with an irate foreman finally yelling for order. A system of raising hands was quickly instituted. However the system was misunderstood to mean that as long as you raised your hand and kept it up you could begin speaking immediately.

Nevertheless, deliberations inched ahead between rationalists and psychologists. Occasionally, a member of the Silent Minority interjected something along the lines of, "If the defendant was a musician, how come they never showed a photograph of him playing music? I think that would've helped."

The intimidation count was now deadlocked with rationalists leaning toward guilt and psychologists inclined toward acquittal. With time ticking away, it was decided to jump ahead to another count as if these were multiple choice exam questions.

But counts 4, 6 and 7 were linked by time and place involving actions that took place in the bathroom following the beating. You couldn't really pry them apart, though we tried briefly, ending in split decisions.

(Count five had been dropped in pre-trial. I think it involved making a false charge of glottal wailing.)

Ah, but count 8 dealt with the temporary restraining order allegedly violated by Mr. Pak. Here was a stand-alone count; one we could sink our teeth into.

I knew Mr. Pak spoke acceptable Quisnos English. I believed the Korean-speaking detective who testified he'd explained the restraining order to Mr. Pak. I believed another cop who testified that Mr. Pak had blurted out in English, 'Why should I leave the apartment? It's my place.' I believed Mr. Pak was guilty of violating the restraining order.

So when the time came to raise our hands...I voted to acquit along with everyone else.

There was a sense that Mr. Pak had eventually left the apartment without the cops being called. Besides, we'd found him guilty on all the big stuff like hitting his wife. Besides, everyone wanted to go home. Besides, I'd already hung a count and wasn't ready to hang another.

Our rush to judgement was suddenly ended by the bailiff.

We'd have to return Monday and finish up.

A quick verdict didn't seem promising.

I wanted to ululate.

Next and Last: Count Down

Images: Xavier School &

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Unreasonable Doubt IV: Judge Not and Ye Shall Not Go Home

As deliberations began, my fellow jurors divided roughly into three categories:

Rationalists—"Let's stick to the evidence and testimony."

Psychologists—"But what if she were thinking something other than what she said?"

The Silent Minority—"Call me when we're voting."

Of the twelve jurors, seven actively deliberated; one or two shifting between rationalist and psychologist depending on the count. (I tended to vote rationalist.) And while the Silent Minority wasn't mute, they mostly spoke of peripheral matters. ("Remember when Robert Downey Junior used to get arrested a lot?")

With a table full of evidence (plus a small basket of glazed doughnut holes left for us by the judge), we rolled up our sleeves on Friday afternoon.

Count one involved spousal abuse and the alleged beating. For this we had the strongest evidence—victim photos taken by the cops, testimony of the victim's friend, testimony of the cops and a paramedic. In addition, the paramedic testified that Mrs. Pak was not coked up based on his examination and years of experience dealing with the citizens of Los Angeles.

On the defendant's side, we had Mr. Pak's testimony that his wife was a whacked out druggie, a manic muffin head, thrashing on their bed and wailing like some Georgia snake handler. His attempts  to either comfort or restrain her had inadvertently resulted in Mrs. Pak's facial injuries. If anything, he was acting in self-defense.

The foreman asked for pros and cons. There was some back and forth that tended to focus on the more fantastic claims of the defendant. There was a sense that Mr. Pak wasn't a very believable witness. Rationalists and psychologists seemed in general agreement.

The foreman called for a vote, "All those who believe the defendant is guilty of spousal abuse, please raise your hands."

I raised my hand, already planning my route home out of downtown. (A drive north up Hill Street through Chinatown to the 110 freeway, north to the 5 Freeway, then a short hop to the television and either the Military Channel or something involving midgets and pit bulls.)

Many hands shot up.

An old guy of the Silent Minority—the retiree—held out.

We were hung 11 to 1 to convict.

 Energy seeped from the room like air from a ruptured scuba tank. No one had anticipated this on the first count. It was as if a guest at a birthday party had suddenly dropped a flagstone on the cake.

The foreman maintained a neutral politeness,"And, uh, what is your opinion of that count?"

"Well, I think we're all rushing to railroad the guy."

"How's that?" asked the former music industry business man.

"What was he supposed to do? His wife was all coked up."

(Are you freaking kidding me ! Where were you during the trial? The first count is a gimme; a slam dunk; a tap in. You must have a brain full of Snapple.)

"Listen, I spent ten years in the music industry. I've seen my share of coke freaks. It doesn't just wear off. You're sweaty, your system's all jacked up."

The photographer chimed in, "And the paramedic said the wife didn't show any symptoms of cocaine. So she probably wasn't high."

(Believe him, old man. I implore you to believe him. I will you!)

The government worker— from whom I'd learned to draw thick arrows—suggested we get the transcript and read back relevant parts. You may've seen this done in courtroom dramas. It's fast and never a problem on TV.

In reality, it's a big hassle. The foreman must request specifically which parts of the massive transcript are needed. Both attorneys must then be summoned. The judge has to Okay the whole thing.

We ended up not doing it.

The retiree backed up a bit on the wife being coked, but still held to the defendant's need to restrain her. If count one ended up hung, then so would the next two since they all were alleged to have happened at the same time in the same location— the Pak's bedroom.

A rationalist remembered the defendant testifying that he had been standing away from the bed, but had returned to restrain his wife, admitting he may have injured her in self defense.

A psychologist suggested, "He didn't have to grab her. He could have left the apartment or called for paramedics,"

The retiree wavered.

Another rationalist read back a legal definition from the jury instructions. The definition roughly stated that you can't rush into a situation and claim self-defense. Old Man Trouble must come to you.

There was the out.

"Well, based on that definition, I might see it differently."

(Oh, thank God! You charming old duffer. How good and noble and intelligent you are when you agree with me.)

"Why don't we vote again?" said the foreman quickly.

12 - 0 for conviction. Count one was a wrap.

The next two counts involving bruising the wife's wrist and smothering her with a pillow until she stopped screaming—along with her promise not to call the cops—went 12 - 0 for conviction on the first vote. We were picking up steam.

The bailiff strolled in. "How you guys doing?"

"We have three so far," said the foreman.

"The court's gonna close early today. You'll have to come back on Monday."

There was pleading from all around the table. Jurors had put off projects and clients or were only being paid for a single week. Going another day would complicate a lot of plans. We needed more time.

"Let me talk to the judge," said the bailiff and strolled out.

This brought us to count 4: intimidation. According to the charge, the wife had run into the bathroom stating she wanted to call a friend, maybe the cops, she wasn't sure. The husband followed, kicked open the door, slapped the cell phone out of her hand, held it away from the wife, and extracted another promise not to call the cops.

According to the defendant, he went into the bathroom to continue his perpetual wife-comforting but that nothing had happened with the cell phone. After all, hadn't she used it later to call her friend and the cops?
The psychologists jumped all over this count, quickly shifting the focus to the wife's actions and thoughts.

"She never actually said she was going to call the cops."

"How could she be intimidated if she wasn't going to call anyway?"

"Remember the cell phone they passed around? I didn't see any damage."

"Me either."

"I dropped my cell phone at the beach once and it broke to pieces. I don't believe the husband threw her cell phone."

"I don't think there's enough evidence to convict."

"Me either."
"Why don't we vote on this one?"

Many hands rose but we hung again.

11 to 1 for acquittal.

I was the hold out.

I could hear my fellow jurors thinking: Thanks a lot, you four-eyed bookworm.
The foreman maintained a neutral politeness as she addressed me,"We have a difference of opinion here. What do you think of the count?"

Coming Up: Lather, Repeat, Rinse

Images: Arthur's Clip Art & All-Free

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ten Unmade Star Trek Episodes

They could've been compelled to do even stranger things.

Sometimes flowers grow from manure. Other times the manure just reeks. The latter case is presented here in the form of ten episodes that never saw daylight. Think of it as No Cash for Clunkers.
i09 via Instapundit

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Unreasonable Doubt III: Pak Up Your Worries

For Mr. Pak to avoid conviction, he needed to fling offal on his soon-to-be-ex-wife's version of events.  (I'm jumping around a bit here.) Thus at one point on a long Thursday afternoon the defendant took another swipe at the Mrs.

Note: This is not Mr. Pak's hand but only a representation.
He described how his loon wife had run into the master bedroom one night and locked the door so as to freely smoke cigarettes and ululate. Concerned, as always, Mr. Pak attempted to open the bedroom door. When it wouldn't yield, he used a chopstick to try and pick the lock.

I glanced at the judge. She had been growing steadily peeved at Mr. Pak's rambling testimony coupled with the inability of his attorney to break up the narrative by asking a question every so often. Something about the chopstick testimony made the judge appear ready to unleash an epic facepalm. In a voice tighter than old slacks, she called for a sidebar.

Standing up to stretch, I realized my instincts over the years had been correct. Jury duty was a thankless snore-fest to be avoided. How did I end up here? I'd served my country in time of war. I was honorably discharged. I paid more taxes than G.E. I'd even reported for jury duty. Many people don't even do that.

And this was my thanks.

Whatever was said in the side-bar seemed to work. The defense hustled up, the city attorney cross-examined and suddenly it was time to go home. Outside Dept. 46, we the jury talked about Friday; how this could all be wrapped up by tomorrow afternoon; how no one wanted to return on Monday. There was confidence that we could zip through seven counts using reason and the evidence and testimony presented in court.

But mostly there was the fervent desire to avoid deliberating Monday.

Back in 1987 on my very first jury panel there were three primary types of jurors: the unemployed (me), retirees and postal workers. (The postal workers were jovial, delighted to be there on full pay.)  It was easy for most people to get out of jury duty and that's what most people did.

All that changed after O.J.

Following Mr. Simpson's 1995 acquittal,  the courts became a lot more fussy. You couldn't shine them on so easily. They cast a wide net and drew in people who'd have skipped service years ago such as independent contractors who weren't paid for jury duty.

Not really our jury or even close.
 Among our 12 jurors and two alternates were:

A Hollywood crime scene tour guide.

Financial planner.

Model as well as commercial and voice actress.

Actress who worked a day job at a spiritual book shop.

Photographer and video director.

Government worker who wanted to break into the music industry.


Personal assistant to a big star (unnamed.)

Banquet planner for an expensive Santa Monica hotel.

Microwave electrical specialist at Jet Propulsion Labs.

Former music industry guy who now worked in business.

Regular guy who worked in business.

Underemployed writer. (me)

A very quiet woman.

 Friday morning, there was a Korean-speaking detective who rebutted Mr. Pak's statement that no one in LAPD explained anything to him in Korean. Mr. Pak was cross-examined more by the city attorney. Then there were closing statements.

The city attorney went first and...talked...very...slowly...and deliberately as if speaking to special needs children or state senators. I figured she was putting on the verbal brakes so the translator could more easily mutter in Korean. She spoke of the victim's straight-forward testimony coupled with physical evidence and witnesses that supported Mrs. Pak's contention that she had been beaten, smothered and intimidated by her husband. But the slowed down speech wasn't winning the People any jury points.

After lunch, the defense attorney summed up his case—the sockless Mr. Pak was the victim of a cocaine-crazed wild woman, an ululator of the first rank. Displaying fire and passion, the attorney might have made a greater impact had he fluidly completed his sentences. The spirit was willing but the diction was weak.

Then came jury instructions. We were given copies but the judge read them anyway. Each count contained certain elements that had to be met for a guilty verdict. Otherwise, acquit. All verdicts had to be unanimous. I jotted a few notes on my form, confident we'd wrap this baby up and maybe—just maybe—get a jump on Friday traffic.

Finally we were ordered forth into the jury room to deliberate. There were two heavy wooden tables placed together so that all twelve of us could fit around. The bailiff deposited the evidence in the center of the tables. Out the window behind us we had a view of the old Hall of Justice, empty now because it needed earthquake retrofitting or else tearing down so that a friend of the mayor could build something.

On the wall was a buzzer and instructions:

Buzz Once - Summon the bailiff.

Buzz Twice - Verdict.

Buzz Thrice - Door Jammed Due to Chopstick in Lock. (Actually, it was for emergencies.)

Several jurors nominated the banquet planner as foreman. She was quickly elected. A bright, friendly woman, I believe she got the job because she knew every one's first name.

Selecting the foreman proved the easiest vote we'd take.

Next: Judge Not and Ye Shall Not Go Home

Images: Learner's Dictionary & Pro Commerce

Unreasonable Doubt Update

Not once during the whole trial did I see or hear a gavel. This left me disillusioned about televised images of our legal system.
Medical exams and a work assignment have me squished for time. But I hope to at least wrap up the trial by this evening.
 Image: Capstone Education ePortfolio

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Unreasonable Doubt II: A Pocketful of Koreans

Let us call the defendant "Mr. Pak." Mr. Pak was in his early thirties, tall, wearing a sharp-looking gray suit, no socks and running shoes. He and his female interpreter wedged into the witness box to testify. Mr. Pak's attorney was a middle-aged Korean with dark glasses who spoke heavily-accented English; not bad English but he often groped for words like a sleepy man fumbling for the alarm clock.

(I should note here that the city attorney was also of Korean heritage and spoke excellent English. Clearly the City of Los Angeles had determined they would not be out-Koreaned by anyone.)

Next to the witness stand was a bulletin board with a schematic of the apartment where the incident had taken place. The judge handed the defendant a laser pointer. The defendant fiddled around, at one instance turning it toward his face

Here the defense attorney dropped the ball.

He warned the defendant in English not to point the laser at his eyes. The defendant immediately flipped the pointer around and got the beam aimed at the schematic. (I'd like to say I noticed at the time, but one of the other jurors bagged that golden moment.)

So testimony began. Here the usual translating process was reversed. The defendant would hold forth in Korean while the interpreter in her high-pitched voice would relate events. 

 Mr. Pak came across as confident, even arrogant at times, but his thumbs twisted and mashed against each other like sumo opponents while his right foot tapped out a steady pneumatic cadence.

After I heard his testimony, I knew why he was nervous.

According to Mr. Pak he was beset by woes. His wife's brain had become soft as a rotten peach from too much cocaine. Mr. Pak wasn't above the occasional toot. But cocaine sometimes made him throw up and he'd go to bed chastened. However his nut wife would stay up all night snorting plate loads of blow and making her strange ululating sounds.

 One night she burst from the apartment, sprinting down the hall wailing like a high priest of Dagon in an H.P. Lovecraft tale. Poor Mr. Pak was forced to pursue and haul her back to their unit by her pony tail. He then flung her on the bed. This had the ring of admitting you pilfered copy paper from work to deflect charges of stealing several Xerox machines.

To get all that information on the record took most of an afternoon as there were objections, frequent side bars and at least two "strike that from the record." The judge was a business-like woman with long straight hair and a short fuse for awkward lines of questioning and any tangents that slowed down the process. She dogged both counsels to keep things moving. You got the impression the judge had rented out Department 46 for a wedding reception and needed all parties out by a certain time so she could string bunting and set up folding chairs.

On cross examination, the city attorney set out to ventilate Mr. Pak's story. But he was cagey and hid behind the translator like a running back shadowing a huge tackle.

"I do not understand that word."

"Could you repeat your question please?"

"I am not sure. Could you say that once more?"

"I do not know the word 'bruise.'"

I stopped taking notes and started doodling arrows with thick lines and shading.

At great length, the city attorney attempted to prove Mr. Pak was aware of—and had violated—a restraining order that instructed him to avoid his apartment.  But via the translator he was primed for that line of inquiry.

"The police gave me a paper. I could not read it. So I put it in my pocket."

"Why should  I tell my lawyer about a paper when I don't know what it is?"

"I don't read English very well."

(Unless there's a turkey club sandwich somewhere in the sentence.)

That night I dreamed I was talking to my wife through a Korean translator.

And we still weren't finished.

Tomorrow: Pak Up Your Worries

Image: & NewYork Magazine

Monday, September 19, 2011

Unreasonable Doubt

Last Monday I reported for jury duty at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles, hoping to hang out in the jury room, read all day and not get picked for a panel. Afterwards, I'd go home and forget about jury duty for the next 18 months to two years. The closest I've ever come to sitting on a panel was many years back when I made the cut at traffic court for a drunk driving case. But the defendant settled before trial—gutless wimp! Every since, I've sat in the juror room every couple of years, reading a damn thick book. Stacks of newspapers gave way around me to laptop cubicles, then WiFi and iPhones. But I remained the perennial jury duty wall flower, showing up for a day of reading with my thick library book.

Clara Shortridge-Foltz Criminal Justice Center

At first, Monday went as expected. I wasn't called for any morning panels. We broke for lunch. Afterwards, I resumed my reading. Suddenly about 40 names were called out including mine. We're being transferred to another courthouse further away from where our cars were parked. Apparently, the Clara Shortridge-Foltz Justice Center Building—also known as the Criminal Courts Building— ran out of jurors. Great. We're being sent to a legal meat grinder. Forty of us walked out into a bright sunny afternoon up to Temple, then east down past the LA Cathedral, across Hill Street, through a gauntlet of street folk that included a bald transvestite in women's platform shoes and a cadre of Informal Americans with super sized Styrofoam "donation" cups to the Criminal Courts Building and up to Department 46.

To my surprise and discomfort, I was sworn in on a panel at Superior Court. Our case involved seven misdemeanor counts that included spousal abuse, battery, intimidation, imprisonment, violation of restraining order plus damaging a cell phone thrown in for good measure. (That's what you get for not taking a plea bargain.) I didn't want to sit in a room with a bunch of strangers and decide seven counts. My fondest wish was that the defendant would do the right thing by me and settle.

But no. Not only wouldn't he settle but he claimed not to understand English very well. That meant a translator ghosted everything said by anybody in the courtroom—judge, clerk, bailiff, city attorney, defense attorney, witnesses—from English into Korean. There were two translators and they tagged in and out like wrestlers, warming the seat next to the defendant and keeping the air filled with muttered Korean. It was distracting. You never really got used to it.

Basically, the case came down to this: the victim said her husband punched her lights out one morning with a closed fist, smothered her with a pillow, restrained her until she promised not to call the cops, released her, then chased her into the bathroom, grabbed her cell phone and played keep away until she again promised not to call the cops. She promised and he let her leave.

Once outside she called the cops.

The defendant said via translator that his wife was a crazy cocaine addict who made weird glottal sounds as if she were speaking in tongues. He had accidentally hugged her too hard and that was what had caused the victim's facial injuries. Also his right hand suffered from a preexisting condition that would prevent him from ever punching his wife but not earning a living as a musician.

In addition, the defendant wore a sharp looking gray suit but no socks and running shoes. Where the heck were his socks? Unfortunately you are under orders not to discuss the case with anybody including fellow jurors. To my knowledge, everybody on the panel clammed up. We never discussed the sock angle. Now my fellow jurors are gone and I'm left alone with my memories.

On Thursday afternoon I was at lunch in a nearby food court waiting for my Quiznos salad special. I glanced next to me and there were the defendant and his attorney. They didn't recognize me, but I heard the defendant speaking pretty confident English. Granted, the Quiznos menu isn't exactly the works of Thomas Aquinas but for a guy who was burning up two translators he sounded like he could sling around a few good English sentences.

But you can't share that with anyone. And when it's time to deliberate, you can't use it because it's outside the evidence and testimony presented in court and they're all you get to judge the defendant. So no socks and OK English. These remained locked inside of me like valuable jewels kept deep in a bank vault guarded by goblins.

Witnesses came and went; there was cross and re-direct and inquiries and muttered Korean droning on and on. There were cops and a paramedic and a victim friend and a doctor who testified for the defendant, arms folded tightly across his chest as if posing for a painting to be titled "hostile witness."

The court provided you with note pads. You could take notes but had to leave them in the courtroom. The juror sitting next to me used his notebook to doodle an intriguing series of thick arrows along with parallel pencil strokes throwing off shadows. I wondered if he would be thoughtful and wise during deliberations. (I found out.)

Tomorrow: A Pocketful of Koreans
Image: Wickipedia and Chow

So Long, wee Earl Kress

Tom Ruegger has a post up on Earl Kress who just passed away from cancer. A nubbin of a man but with a good heart, Earl had been around animation so long that he used to TYPE scripts on a TYPEWRITER. He wrote animated moves and performed voices and pretty much did everything in the animation industry that a creative guy could do. I'll always remember him sitting in his office at Warner Bros. cranking out scripts wearing a repetitive stress brace on his wrist and forearm. While making shows we'd always say "On film forever" to remind ourselves to pay attention to the details.  Earl leaves behind a big old batch of work that will be 'on film' in one form or another for years to come. Rest in peace, Mr. Kress.
Here's a piece from an Animaniacs Christmas episode Earl wrote called "Little Drummer Warners." 

h/t: CillalisTheSeller

UPDATE: The Animation Guild remembers Earl. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Jury Duty and Traffic

Jury duty is at least interesting. Morning traffic from my house to downtown Los Angeles is like sitting on a high branch with bees in your shorts—unpleasant and precarious. Yesterday, I saw a man flip out because some guy had edged in front of him. He whipped his car into the next lane just so he could violently cut back in front of the guy. All the time, he's leaning on the stinking horn. Perhaps all the shootings blamed on road rage really have nothing to do with crazed drivers, but are the actions of bystanders administering street justice to savage dopes. I hope so.