I Sing of Jury Duty

Jury duty, the Hollywood version: 12 Angry Men.


In the course of questioning, one of the potential jurors announced, “I believe in jury nullification, in some cases.” That had to be a splash of cold water.

We were asked whether we, or someone close to us, had ever been the victim of a crime. And here, let me say something about New York and politics.

Next month, we’re going to have a mayoral election in this city. For 20 years, we have had peace, to an extraordinary degree. You can walk the streets, or most of them, at all hours. You could practically sleep in Central Park. The statistics are staggering — staggeringly wonderful.

For 20 years, nobody but Rudolph Giuliani or Michael Bloomberg has been mayor. But we seem set to elect a classic “progressive” as mayor — an admirer of the Castros, the Sandinistas, the whole nine yards.

The great question is, “Will New Yorkers prove willing to go back to the bad old days? Will they be willing to ‘tolerate the intolerable,’ in the words of Norman Podhoretz? To accept a city rife with crime?”

Back to jury duty. The judge was asking, “Have you or someone close to you ever been the victim of a crime?” The older New Yorkers in the pool all said, “Of course, in the bad old days.” It was as though you had asked them, “Have you ever eaten a sandwich? Have you ever watched television?”

It was simply expected, pre-1994, that you would be the victim of a crime, probably repeatedly. People, including schoolkids, carried “mugger money” — money to give to muggers, so they wouldn’t get too mad and do something worse than rob you. It was normal.

To be continued (sorry to say) . . .

I was not chosen for the case I’ve mentioned. I had two reactions: first, relief, because I could proceed with my calendar as I had planned it. But second, a bit of dismay: “You mean they didn’t want me? I’d have been an excellent juror, those . . .”

Visitors to New York, and residents too, like to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. I do it about every five years, I guess: when I’m called to jury duty and have a lunch break. (The courthouses I’m talking about are in southern Manhattan.)

One of the best things about the Brooklyn Bridge? A large, sharp, billowing American flag, plunked right on the crown, or crest. Splendid. (The Statue of Liberty is a little far away to give off her full majesty. The flag picks up some of the slack.)

Some years ago, I was quite cross about the jury system in our country. Juries in prominent cases had been fouling up, as I saw it. I asked a judge friend of mine what he thought about juries. My friend is a very sober-minded chap. He said, “They’re great. They almost never get a case wrong.”

I guess I trust that. And trial by jury — that is worth keeping up, I know.


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