An engrossing look at the jury selection process from the inside by an editor at the Santa Maria Times:
- Just call me 078628.
For a brief time Monday, that number was my name as a member of the jury pool for the Michael Jackson molestation trial.
Random sampling had nabbed me, among the some 750 prospective jurors for what one prosecutor dubbed the trial of the ages.
….There was little doubt what this was for, but a court official confirmed it: we were part of “The People of the State of California vs Michael Joe Jackson.”
Most of the time, jurors haven’t a clue about the defendant. Of course, this is far from the typical case, despite everyone’s attempts to act otherwise.
Surprisingly, officials didn’t make any warnings about avoiding comments as we went through the process. Some people read newspapers previewing the hoopla surrounding the case.
One would-be juror loudly proclaimed his plans to write a book.
“He is weird,” another man said of Jackson.
A third commented that Jackson can’t seem to decide on his color and made remarks about a “vendetta” from the District Attorney’s Office.
….Upon arrival, court staff confirmed we were in the right locale and handed out plastic ID holders to display our numeric names and the word “juror” through the small square window.
A jury services official explained the numbers as a way to shield identities and shelter us from the gaggle of media (ouch).
….Finally, two hours after arriving, we were on the move, shuffled to the courtroom as crowds hidden from sight chanted “Michael is innocent.”
In the front of the courtroom, decked out in a vibrant white, Michael Jackson stood, facing us as attorneys flanked him. The much-photographed entertainer moved his lips to a smile as we entered. His attorneys made eye contact with several, and smiled….
The judge-turned-professor reminded that jury duty is the responsibility of American citizenship, a reason so many have died fighting for freedom.
After asking those with hardship pleas to remain, nearly two-thirds left to fill out questionnaires.
One by one, the remainder asked Judge Rodney Melville for a deferment, most of us unable to live for six months without our salaries. Somehow, $15 a day for jury duty just won’t cover the basics of living on the Central Coast for six months.
I am wondering if I should feel paranoid, relieved, left out, or not think much about it (I choose the latter), but I have never been called to jury duty in my entire life. I have been a registered voter all my adult life but have never heard the call. Hmm.
Anyway, nice little glimpse into the quotidian and the bizarre aspects of a case that has, in a sense, taken over a town.
Those who didn’t ask for a deferment filled out a questionnaire:
- Potential jurors in the Michael Jackson trial are being asked if they’ve ever had cancer, about their opinion on people of different races and even about whether they followed the 1993 molestation allegations against the pop star.
….Some of the other questions included whether they have ever experienced or been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior, if they have ever advocated for abused children, and how closely they have followed the case.
Besides asking jurors about any religious beliefs or medical problems that could keep them from serving, the questionnaire grazed several specific issues likely to come into play during the trial, including whether jurors or their families had ever made “any type of claim for money damages.”
….While the questionnaire touched on several issues, it did not go into the kind of detail that would help attorneys eliminate jurors they saw as sympathetic to the other side, said Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor.
“This is the most bare-bones questionnaire I’ve ever seen,” said Levenson. “It’s very superficial. The judge obviously did not want a sociology study, but this will make it more difficult for the defense to find the kind of jurors they want.” [AP]