The trouble with juries
Last week I expressed my dismay at the jury selection process I witnessed June 24 in Eagle. As I mentioned, 150 summons were issued and 47 were either returned as undelivered mail or responses were received that caused those summoned to be excused.I inquired as to what a viable reason would be for such an excuse. Hardship was the answer, and that includes many definitions. For example, negative economic impact that would arise from being absent from work, usually a sole proprietor who would have no income if they were absent from their job. Remember, pay for the day is $50 if you serve. But regardless, employers are liable for the first three days of pay during your absence. Then there’s illness, and time scheduled out of town that cannot be changed, etc.But that still left a jury pool available for that day of 103 citizens. Only 30 showed up. As I said last week, 73 people just blew it off. I found that simply staggering.I pursued this with the judge while the jury was taking a break. Curiosity begged me to ask what the consequences would be for the no-shows. At the risk of spreading the problem further, his answer was also staggering, because it was “Nothing.” I said “Nothing?”,not believing what I had heard. And he said again, “Nothing.”Not satisfied with that I asked, “Why?” It is pure and simple, a matter of economics. At one time or another, every possible means has been employed to ensure that citizens perform their duty. But it was determined that this pursuit is just too costly.I asked the judge what kind of message it sent to those 30 who had rearranged their lives to make an appearance and more importantly, to those who hadn’t. And I could see that this man, who so clearly believes in the system, was as puzzled as I was. Keep in mind that several times during his instructions he said that there are only two responsibilities that we have a citizens. One is to vote and the other is to serve. But his answer, maybe tempered by years of dealing with this problem, was much more forgiving than mine would have been. He simply said he hopes that ultimately people’s conscience will prevail and cause them to do the right thing. For all else, he hoped karma would factor in.While I’d love to think that conscience and karma were the answer, it seems pretty clear that if they were, I wouldn’t be writing this column. Yet not for a minute am I prepared to pose a solution. However, with the Fourth of July still fresh in our minds, it seems an appropriate time to explore this.Why is it, do you suppose, that the very issues that plague many parts of the world are the ones we take for granted? Think of the countries even today that would give anything to have a system of being judged by their peers. How many people still fight for the right to vote? But more importantly, how would you feel if those rights were taken away? Notice I’ve made a point of saying rights – that’s because I was corrected at the courthouse when I referred to it as a responsibility and duty. It’s much bigger than that, keeping in mind while no one likes war, these are the reasons why they are fought. Yet these rights exist for us and we ignore them. It’s such a sad commentary. INTERESTING TRIVIA: Again, garnered from my day at court. Last year, Eagle County processed 400 felons through the system. I learned this as the judge was relating what a strain the Kobe case put on this rural judicial system. If the files for all 400 felons’ cases were stacked in a corner, they would equal only half of the stack for the Bryant case in pre-trial motions alone! Now I guess it’s time to return to our elected officials. I was actually embarrassed last Tuesday by a council meeting that lasted until 11 p.m. Not only do they talk incessantly, the same things are said over and over, week after week. Comments in the back of the room ranged from “Why don’t they do their homework?” to “Didn’t somebody already say that?” to “Which one is grandstanding now?”While I’m at it, it seems that someone should take a look at how items are scheduled. Priority should be given to issues that clearly will generate the most public input and they should be first on the agenda. For example, every one knows that the GRFA discussion has been a hot one that’s been going on for a loooong time. Every time it’s on the agenda, lots of concerned citizens, builders, architects and realtors show up to voice their opinions. So why would it be the last scheduled topic on a very heavy agenda, causing a large number of people to hang around until 10:30? If you didn’t know better, you might suspect there’s an intent to discourage public input. Staff reports, people requesting special benefits (ie. money) should be last.And at the risk of repeating myself, what about the microphones? A large chunk of change was spent on upgrading a system that they still refuse to use. It’s not just me. The assistant town manager mentioned that she feared she was going deaf as she couldn’t hear, either. No Pam, you’re hearing’s fine. There’s a reason why sound systems were invented. We just need to use ours.Do your part: call them and write them. To contact the Town Council, call 479-1860, ext. 8, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. To contact Vail Resorts, call 476-5601 or e-mail email@example.com. For past columns, vaildaily.com-columnists or search:ferry. Kaye Ferry is a longtime observer of Vail government. She writes a weekly column for the Daily.