By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
Observations from most of two weeks in court:
• Attorneys whose phones ring in Federal District Senior Judge Neal Biggers’ courtroom are fined $100. Given that such an alarm can be a serious interruption to court business, the rule makes good sense. And having experienced the unforgettable disgrace of having my phone ring at a graveside service, it’s not too difficult to understand Judge Biggers’ ban on phones for the general public.
• Given the handicap imposed by being out of electronic contact most of the day, I and probably several others in the audience would willingly accept the same risk as the attorneys if it meant we could bring in phones, fully turned off except during breaks. At least one of us would gladly post a refundable Ben Franklin in advance to prove good faith.
• When a member of the audience asks his neighbor what was just said, it guarantees that the questioner, the neighbor and all those around them will miss the next several words.
• The custom of standing as the jury enters and exits is an inspiring and useful reminder that regular citizens – “a jury of one’s peers” – are the arbiter of right and wrong in America.
• If one misses the opening arguments, in which lawyers are free to offer their own interpretation of the evidence and witnesses they’ll be presenting or contesting, seemingly random pieces of evidence can seem like random stars in the sky. When enough stars become visible, though, the constellations begin to take form in the mind’s eye.
• In cases largely dependent on great quantities of documents whose presentation is necessary but eye-bleedingly tedious and hair-pullingly laborious, the jury should get combat pay for having to fight themselves to stay awake.
• Hope I’m never a defendant in a trial. It’s got to be hard to listen to awful accusations leveled at you for days on end, whether you did those things or not.
• One other reason for not being a defendant: When there are so many lawyers involved in a trial that some of them have to sit in the audience, the collective meter is turning at several thousand dollars per hour.
And that meter started a very long time before the trial commenced last week.
• Waiting on a verdict is not much more traumatic than waiting for a bus to observers with no real connections to those involved in the trial. It must be tense for the prosecutors and the defense lawyers. Can’t begin to imagine what it’s like for defendants and their families.
• Only three entities have any claim to outranking a judge in his own courtroom: the jury, the law and the bladder.