We don’t get a lot of mail these days – most of it is garbage, or offers to enroll in Fred’s Medicare plan, or change our car oil or such. First class mail is almost non-existent, so it was interesting to see that my beloved spouse received a letter from the Clerk of Courts, District Court in Fargo. I didn’t open it, but I knew right away what it was…
For some reason when we lived in South Dakota, I was the one who was constantly being “invited” to be part of a jury pool in pursuit of our nation’s justice system functioning the way it should. At that time, I was senior pastor at Rapid City First, and apparently, they liked my name, so I would punt my work at the church, and head over to the courthouse, to sit and watch the system unfold.
I actually got picked three different times to be on a jury during those years. Two of them were criminal cases, and one was a civil case. Let me say that all the police and court shows on television do not quite describe the normal goings on in our nation’s hallowed halls of justice. First of all, I began to realize that the job of the lawyers was to select the least qualified, or educated fellow citizens to make up the jury of one’s peers. The idea is a good concept, but there was no greater impetus to stay on the right side of the law, if it meant I would come under the deliberation of a jury made up of those folks. Nice people, mostly, but … Of course, I have to wonder then why I was selected. Maybe they thought a pastor would either understand justice, or go with mercy.
Three times selected, and three times elected as the jury leader (what they used to call foreman…). The other thing that seemed to be evident was the real lack of debate training, or the ability to make a point by either side of the aisle. Whew. You would think, given the normal pay scale for a lawyer, that it would also include quick thinking, precise questions, accurate follow-up and not calling someone to the witness stand who had no concept of what they were to do in the first place. I recall one of the trials in which, by the time both sides rested, I was set and ready to find all them – including a couple of witnesses – guilty, in part for malfeasance, and also for just being kind of dumb.
So then, of course, the case goes to the jury, where I met with another group of folks for whom the concept of logical and evidential consideration was pretty much a foreign exercise. I longed to go back to meeting with the finance committee of the church – which tells you how bad it was. After hours (it should have taken 15 minutes or so), “we” came to the exact verdict I believed was proper from the beginning. It’s what you call the process of chasing something around the barn a few times, just to see if we missed a pitchfork sticking out of the ground or something – I mean really… we can do better as Americans.
Back to the courtroom, where I then had to report the verdict to the judge. I have to admit that saying the words, “Guilty as Charged,” is a little bit scary, since I was speaking for the jury, but I was the only one speaking, as those charge with the crime were burning my image into their minds. I imagined those shows where a convict leaves prison after so many years, and immediately hunts down the jury members, starting with the jury leader, in revenge for spoiling their day. And I got to do all of that for the magnificent compensation of $50.
As I said, I had a flurry of summons over the course of ten years or so, but after we moved to Nashville, and then back to the Dakotas, I was spared the adventure in court, and really haven’t missed it.
That brings us back to Cheri. When I handed her the envelope when she got home, her first response was, “Oh Crud.” I suggested that perhaps it was simply a call for her to give expert testimony in a malpractice trial or something. It was then she looked at me with the expression that I have grown to interpret as, “Really? You’ve only been retired a little over a year – you couldn’t have lost that many brain cells…” She opened it up and sure enough, the District Court of Fargo invited her to spend some time at the end of September, helping them do their constitutional responsibility. Her second response was, “Well, I’ll just tell them I can’t.” Being the expert in law that I am, I tried to explain to her that “can’t” is not an option. Unless she was terrible ill, or out of the country, or incredibly old, she had the responsibility – nay, the duty as an American – to show up and sit in the jury pool and hope that she won’t get picked for the actual jury itself.
She wasn’t happy. Immediately she began to figure out how she can have the clinic cancel appointments that day – I reminded her it could last more than one day (another look…) – and that they were clear that to simply not respond would bring the potential of contempt of court. We’ve all seen that on TV, as the judge slams down the hammer, and the nice looking person is locked up in the hoosegow until she repents.
So, Cheri is going to show up in a month for possible jury duty. She also made it clear –as a question – of her disbelief that, if there needed to be a Cross on the jury, why it wouldn’t have been me, all retired that I am. I told her it doesn’t work that way, and you can’t hand off your constitutional responsibility to your spouse, just because it’s not convenient. Another look…
Of course, by then, the pandemic may re-surge, and everyone in court will have to wear masks for the entire day, or they will try the case without a jury or something. My suggestion was just to go with it, and see what you can learn from it all. Like I said, I learned mostly not to break the law, so that I wouldn’t have to endure something like I had to be part of. I guess I don’t see Cheri as turning to the life of crime, at least in the near future.
We all plan to some extent as to what we will do with our daily lives. That’s good, and intentional and thoughtful. However, it’s always also good to know that some things just come up and grab us, and bring us into situations and experiences we would never choose on our own. I guess that’s called life.
So, watch out, all you hooligans, or breakers of the law – you have a potential jury member ready to come down hard for justice… so long as it doesn’t last more than a day.
Word for the day: prolixity. Pronounced pro-LICKS-uh-tee. This is an unfortunate condition for politicians, preachers, and blowhards. The word comes from the Latin prolixus, meaning, “extended, or stretched out.” Further it comes from pro+linquere, meaning “to flow forth.” Someone afflicted with prolixity has the tendency to speak or write at great or tedious lengths. They are long-winded, which means they will inhale, and not finish using all the air in their lungs until they have talked the rest of us to sleep. Say what you mean, mean what you say – and then be blessedly quiet. Thank you.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.