Monday, October 4, 2010

Here Comes the Judge

Stop eatin’ that fudge
’Cause here comes the judge
        [Shorty Long, 1968]

Herewith an example of how memories are evoked. A while back a post on Siris (“American Aristocracy”) pleased Brigitte (link). She discovered that Aristotle had advocated choosing leaders by lot. Now it so happens that we’d discussed that method ourselves quite a while back. In the process we’d elaborated the idea into a practical shape, speculated on its possible consequences, and found this approach to politics pregnant with possibilities. Neither of us had ever read Aristotle’s Politics, hence we didn’t know that this idea had such an eminent provenance. Fine. But how do we get to the judge?

Well, we talked about the subject again yesterday, reviewing various parallels. This triggered memories of the three occasions on which I’d served on a jury, twice in Minnesota, once here in Wayne County. Public service by lot, you might say—the servants selected from a “qualified pool”—exists in miniature in the justice system. My own experiences have been altogether positive. I discovered that the people I served with were a genuinely random selection, a tiny but representative slice of society, and—in the jury room, considering another fellow human’s fate—remarkably serious, responsible, and adult in approach. We’re getting warmer, right?

Now it so happens that, my first time ever, long before I’d been selected for a jury, I was sitting with perhaps fifty other people in a huge room engaged in total passivity, the usual fate of the still unemployed juror. Reading, of course. A group approached me, two men, a woman; the men hung back, the woman did the talking; men always leave this sort of thing to ladies. The three were part of a film crew engaged by the Hennepin County justice system to make a film intended for the “briefing and education” of future juries. Scenes from an entire fictitious trial would be filmed and used for demonstration. Now this team was, as it were, choosing characters for different roles. I had a beard, the beard already grey. They wondered if I'd volunteer to play the judge… Before I could even react, the lady assured me that this would be done right now, while you'd just be sitting around. I laughed. I agreed. In consequence, about half an hour later, dressed in the robes of a judge now, in an unused jury room, I saw the judge’s tall podium and lectern from close up, saw the kinds of things that typically hide under the ledges there, and went through my paces. The team must have guessed that beyond looking like a judge, I was also a genuine ham. Some hours later it was all over.

Months passed. Then, one evening, Brigitte came home one afternoon after an outing. She was beaming from amusement. She packaged her story neatly so that I had to wait a bit for the punch line. Evidently she'd run across a casual acquaintance of ours and had fallen into a conversation. Along the line, not at first by any means, the lady friend said to her, “You know, Brigitte, I didn’t know that your husband is a judge. Why didn’t you ever tell me?” It appears that the lady had been on jury duty and, at the outset, she’d seen an introductory film where, my God, the husband of a friend of hers was up there in black explaining the law…

More months passed, and I was called to jury duty once again. This happened to be a most inconvenient time. I was surprised and irritated to be called again so soon after serving. And yes, I saw it too, that film. There I was. Of course we sat in darkness while the images were on the screen. And after the lights came up, I was a little disappointed that not a single person noticed that me, myself, and I, yes, I had been the judge on the screen. Then I remembered that after a certain age, younger people don’t see you any more. But, getting on in years, I hadn’t lost my initiative. I marched straight to the administrative offices and demanded that I should be released from jury duty for good cause. “And the cause is?” I was asked. I explained that for the last year and a half, every working day, I’d been serving this institution voluntarily. “Served how?” I was asked. I explained, again, that my handsome, bearded features were teaching prospective jurors what a judge looks like and how you must address him. This caused mild amusement for the staff, but I was told that service of that kind did not qualify as cause for a release. So I went back to the big room and sat down to read again. I’ve got a rich résumé

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