Thursday, June 10, 2004

Jury Duty

I just found out that the book draft is due 3 days earlier than I thought (I **** at math). Bien sure, my first thought was: the world is coming to an end. Followed immediately by: who could blame me for taking a moment to blog before Armageddon. So, in the spirit of desperate days ahead, allow me to indulge in a quick personal-story post.

A few years back when I was a resident, I was called for jury duty. At that time I had no interest in anything that happened outside the hospital, so having to take a day off was, to put it delicately, a mild annoyance. Even so, I must admit I did feel a slight civic pride twinge deep down inside. After all, I was going to perform an important and valuable public service.

I won't bore you with a description of the countless hours spent waiting. Suffice it to say, I was picked to be picked (that's right; efficiency isn't the court's best friend) to serve on a jury. The trial involved a suit brought against a physician and a medical device manufacturer. This is what happened next. About 20 (I don't remember the exact number) of us went into a courtroom. There was a Judge, a defense and a prosecution attorney, and a bailiff (? not sure this is the exact title). All our names were put in a small box, and the bailiff picked (lottery-style) one name at a time. When your name was called, you had to get up and go sit in a separate area of the room, and answer a few questions from both lawyers: name, occupation, educational history, do you own any stock options (?), did you ever file a malpractice suit, and last but not least, can you be 100% sure you'll make the right decision if you are selected to serve.

Since I was the last one picked, I had the opportunity to observe the process. It took maybe 4 or 5 people for me to notice a pattern. The more educated the person, the higher the likelihood that she/he would be excused. The more realistic/philosophical the answer given to the "can you be 100% sure" question, the higher the likelihood that you wouldn't be picked. Mind you, both lawyers were doing this, not just the defense one.

When it was my turn, all I managed to say was my name, and what I did for a living. The nanosecond the lawyers heard I was a resident, they stopped the proceeding, stormed out, came back, and asked (in unison) the Judge to kick me out. In case you think I suffer from some type of persecution complex--afterwards, most of the other jurors approached me, expressed sympathy, and told me how bad they felt about the way I was treated.

Well, any civic pride twinges I might have had up to that point were gone. Not only that, but I was mad. First, I had to miss a day in the hospital. (The one day, might I add, when we had a patient with spontaneous uterine rupture. Do you know how rare an event that is? I'll tell you: it's a once-in-a-lifetime event. And I missed it!) Second, I had to wait a billion hours, only to be summarily dismissed just because I was a resident. That's discrimination based on my profession. And it's also idiotic (yes, I'm still mad to this day)--if I'm not the peer (as in "a jury of your peers") of a physician, then who is? Also, quite intriguingly now that I think of it, whose peer am I exactly--a mathematician's, a miner's, an artist's (in case you're wondering, three professions I know nothing about and am in no way qualified to judge)?

I did go to the Judge and I did tell her, in no uncertain terms, what I thought of the whole process of jury selection. I also asked her to provide me with a definition of "jury of your peers". I must say, she was very nice and patient with me. She somewhat agreed with me that the lawyers were gaming the system. I didn't get a definition, but she was gracious enough to offer an explanation of why I couldn't be on a jury in a medical trial. Something to do with the fact that they didn't want medical facts not in evidence to pop up in jury deliberations. (Of course, I don't agree. First, this trial was about some type of cardiac stent, not my area of medical expertise. Second, our professions, interests, and experiences define who we are as people. What if one of the selected jurors worked as a janitor, but was very mechanically inclined, and an avid reader of health information. He could bring a lot of information about stents and, say, blood flow, into the jury room.) The Judge even apologized for my bad experience. I did appreciate that, since it wasn't her fault; it's the system (no, really).

The bottom line: I have seen how the system works (the way the sausage is made and all that), and I have lost faith. Today, I received a jury duty notice. My reaction: sadness and contempt.



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