I couldn’t make a racist statement to get out of jury duty. It’s just not me. And my letter failed–the one explaining that I might not be an ideal candidate, given my psychiatric history in the last year.
So there I was listening to the case, hoping that I would recognize the judge, the defense lawyer, the state attorney, or the defendant (like from the waiting room of my psychiatrist).
My case involved a motorcycle accident, in which the passenger died. The prosecutor argued that the driver was drunk while operating his Harley Davidson, which skidded off an off-ramp. (The passenger died instantly after hitting a guardrail.)
“Since this accident involves alcohol,” the judge addressed the jury pool, “would anyone have any reason that would keep them from impartial judgment.”
I stood up and made my way to the judge, two lawyers, and defendant.
“Sir,” I said, “as a recovering alcoholic, I tend to be very judgmental towards drunks who do stupid things.”
“I see,” he said. “But do you think you could put that behind you and try to judge this case fairly?”
“I will certainly try. But, sir, it’s kind of like being an ex-smoker…in a bar.”
The defense lawyer glared at the judge with eyes that said, “Don’t even think about putting this chick on the jury.”
I walked back to my seat with a smile because I knew I had just scored. But I was slightly embarrassed by what I had just said, and how it came out so naturally.
Growing up in an alcoholic family and enduring nineteen years of drunken holidays and dinners where I was the only sober one had left me with a few bruises. Almost all my compassion was used up in this area.
But maybe I shouldn’t have been so matter-of-fact.
A few days later, I read the details of the case in the paper, and I wanted so badly to take back my calloused and disparaging words.
The passenger who died wasn’t some fellow drunk picked up at a bar, like I thought. It was his wife. And the defendant said the only drink he had that day was one to toast his wife’s birthday.
“How many times do you have to learn this lesson?” I asked myself. “You can’t rush to judgment until you have all the details. And even then, it’s always best to err on the side of compassion.” My friend and mentor Mike taught me that.