I Was Married by a Judge. I Should Have Asked for a Jury. (Groucho Marx)
I am by no means a student of the law, but I must admit that I am a bit perplexed by the whole brouhaha surrounding the upcoming appointment of a new U.S. Supreme Court judge. It’s not that I don’t understand all the political implications involved with such an important appointment, it’s just, what the heck! When did we start equating judges with politicians? Correct me if I am wrong, I believe the drafters of the American Constitution were pretty serious about establishing a judicial system that would be independent from political pressure. After all, Justice is Blind, right? Flip through the Bible and you’ll see how many injunctions there are instructing us to seek out justice. Yet, so many legal experts are arguing that the vetting process for a new Supreme Court judge should wait until a new president is sitting in the Oval Office.
If that’s the case, then it should come as no shock that the legal profession is held in such low esteem by much of the general public. According to a Pew Research Centre survey from 2013, only 18% of those surveyed felt that lawyers contribute “a lot” to society’s well being. A Gallup Poll conducted in 2015 listed building contractors as upholding higher ethical standards than most lawyers – that’s taking into account all the contractors that most of us think should be sued.
It’s truly a shame that such a noble profession is regarded so cynically by so many law-abiding citizens. I admit there was a time, a very brief time, mind you, that I actually entertained the thought of becoming a lawyer. Perry Mason probably had more to do with that fantasy than any really serious consideration. Seriously, the man lost only three cases in his entire career! What’s not to admire?
Unfortunately, the bubble burst around the ripe old age of eighteen when I got called up for jury duty. Believe me; nobody was more shocked than me to discover that I was considered mature enough to participate in determining the fate of my fellow citizen. I’d love to know which genius picked my name out of a hat. You might be surprised to discover that a lot of people try to disqualify themselves from jury duty. Not moi; I was all gung ho for performing my civic duty. At the time, they were selecting jurors for some juicy murder trial; I, however, was assigned to some corruption case for a union official – real heavy stuff.
I don’t remember a lot of the details from the trial. The accused sported a name reminiscent of one of the characters from the movie, The Goodfellas, if you get my drift. The cross-examinations were pretty cut and dry; nothing too dramatic. Things started to perk up when we retired to the jury room to decide the fate of this pillar of society. As young as I was, I remember being astonished that so many of my fellow jurors had no clue as to what had just transpired in the court room. From the remaining lot, there were a few who were determined to wrap this case up very quickly lest they risk missing happy hour at their favourite watering hole. In spite of these hurdles, justice was meted out – we all voted for an acquittal. Nobody in the courtroom was more surprised to hear the verdict than the defendant himself. He was so overwhelmed with gratitude that he asked the judge if he could shake the hands of all the jurors. The judge was not amused; personally, I thought it was a nice gesture on his part.
Am I proud of my decision? That’s a hard one to call. My guess is that at the time I had probably seen enough wise guy movies to know that I wanted to make it safely to my next birthday. Yet, a trial by a jury of one’s peers is considered a sacred right guaranteed in most western democracies. If that’s not a sobering enough proposition, we now have to contend with the possibility that some judges actually harbour their own political agendas. Then again, considering the state of politics these days, I’m not so sure that it’s the judges that we should be worried about……