The other day I was thinking about something that happened a long time ago: when I went to jury duty. This event, really, seemed to start a questioning of the law that continues to today. It was here that I first saw, for the first time, the ‘comedy of law’.
It was in the late 80’s. I had to go to jury duty. The trial lasted a week. The trial was over a burning of a building. A company had a building they weren’t using. It was a large store with wide open space inside. Another company rented the building so they could use the space in the building for their project. The material they used happened to be very flammable, but no one realized how flammable. Eventually, in the course of their project, the set caught fire and it went into flames so quickly that it went out of control. Eventually, the building was burnt down. It’s been a long time and I can’t recall all the details but it seems that the owner of the building was asking for a massive amount of money on the grounds that it was just negligence. The other company, I think, offered to rebuild the building but the owners were suing for more.
At the time it was sort of fun and a new experience for me. Unfortunately, I began to see things that has caused me to question all sorts of aspects about law. I always jokingly called it the ‘lawyer show’ as it was a comedy of lawyers but, really, the whole thing was a comedy: the judge, the ‘customs’ that surround a court hearing, the arguments, etc. I still look back on it and chuckle.
But, I should start off with the remark that almost got me laughing out loud the last time I was called up to do jury duty (about 10 years ago). I went to the court-house, as I was supposed to, and was with all the other potential jurors in a room being instructed about things by a lady. She mentioned how it was our ‘civic duty’ and responsibility to be jurors and our ‘right’ and all that. To be frank, I agreed with the statements and felt sort of ‘proud’ as well as a sense of being a ‘citizen’ participating in our city.
And then she destroyed it all with a sentence! Someone asked what would happen if we couldn’t make it. She first said that if you can’t let them know as they will send a police officer to pick you up. But they went on and asked what happened if you just didn’t show up. Her reply:
“You’ll be arrested!”
Civic duty! What civic duty is there when I can get arrested when I don’t do it? This isn’t civic duty, it’s a ‘you-better-or-else’ type of thing. That shot all my pride down and the good feelings I had about being a ‘citizen’ were dashed to pieces. I almost erupted in laughter in front of everyone and just about said, “what, you got to be kidding?” and wanted to tell her that all the stuff about civic duty is a bunch of crap. But I didn’t dare. I was in the court-house. They’ll probably fine me for contempt or something (you know they can charge me with something – that is the business of a court-house).
Anyways, back to my jury duty. The comedy of the court hearing was quite funny. Just thinking about it now makes me chuckle: the pretend authority of the judge, the ‘performance’ of the lawyers, the seriousness of the guards, the ‘sanctity’ of the court room, the arguments – I mean the manipulation of the system – that was being done there.
But, more than anything else I could see that this is not the great thing I always thought it was. It didn’t take a genius to see that a lot of the legal system is nothing but a show, a performance, a display of ‘authority’, a game of ‘power’ by the manipulation of the ‘mechanisms of power’. What I mean by this is that the legal system is just a machine, and, like a machine, it is a continual play of ‘mechanisms’ all geared to do a specific thing and one thing only. Because of this, the legal ‘machine’ is actually doing things narrowly, like looking through a tube, based on the limits of its ‘mechanisms’. This can go to the point of being completely blind.
Because law is a ‘machine’ with ‘mechanisms’ the bulk of law, and the basis of its ‘debate’, is in the manipulation of those mechanisms. This, really, is the profession of the lawyers and it showed here. At this trial I sat and watched something I’ve never seen before: two adults standing in front of everyone, trying to change things around and twists facts and the ‘mechanisms of law’ to make their ‘case’ appear ‘correct’. It was like watching some punk kids trying to get out of not being in trouble, blaming their little brother, and twisting facts around so the parents will not blame them. Never have I seen such blatant open warping of things in my life! And, what’s worse, it was done in front of a room full of people and a judge, who is supposed to represent ‘authority’ and ‘justice’. It was also done in the name of law using legal principles. Not only that, no one questioned it, as if it was OK to do that. And even further, many of us knew they were warping things (me and some of the jurors even made jokes about it) but, yet, no one seemed to mind!
I couldn’t believe it!
This is the law? This is the legal system? You got to be kidding.
I still chuckle with the image of a judge behind the big raised desk: should I be in awe? They sit there and do nothing but act like god. They allow the silly arguments of the lawyers to continue without question. They sit and allow stupid judgements to be passed and do nothing. It looks like a big pretend game of a ‘nothing’, really, of someone who really has no control but pretends to have control.
The lawyers were a show unto themselves. Like a bunch of sycophants they acted like a bunch of brown-nosers trying to wiggle their way into favor, doing whatever it takes at whatever cost. You could almost feel the ‘sucking up’ being in their very presence. They come in all dressed so nice and neat, with their practiced manners intended to dazzle or at least to divert away any smear of doubt upon them. Their arguments were so carefully crafted and manipulative and deceiving: they obviously went to school to learn it. You can almost see them weaving in between the principles of law, like a motorcyclist weaving in and out of traffic. Even I, a kid of about 20, could see that! You could see how law was nothing but a ‘mechanism’ for them to manipulate in their favor. It was sickening.
Some years later, when I was going to the University, I would go the cafeteria and would often sit next to law students. I swear you could feel something oozing from them, like some energy. It as if emanated from them. It mystified me. It’s a distinct ‘lawyer ooze’, as I’ve feel it exclusively in that group of people alone and no one else. I’ve often asked myself what it is. It’s hard to describe, but this is how I would describe it:
It’s a sense of a person who thinks they are ‘above’ the system and other people in some way, or wants to be (this often hints at a person who actually feels inferior deep down inside). By meddling in law they see themselves as ‘above’ the system, and that they can manipulate it to their wants, like some toy for them to play with. This ‘above’ the system sense makes them feel that they deserve more than other people. As a result, they think they should make a fortune. And, to finish it, behind all their show they are really, deep down, nothing but a bunch of people sucking up and brown-nosing the system. This gives them a sense of a want-to-be and hypocrite. I have never sensed in a lawyer someone who was truly interested in justice, though I’m sure they are out there. I haven’t met one yet. In general, the ‘lawyer ooze’ seems to be a person who is selfish, and thinks they’re important, and is willing to do whatever it takes to get what they want, but they are really just a person scheming their way in life. This seems to be part of their personality, as many behave like that in everyday life (all that I know are like that but, I must admit, I don’t hang around the ‘lawyer crowd’ all that much so I cannot say if they are all like that). This probably why this field appeals to them so much. That’s how I’d describe what it feels like to me.
And these are the people who make up the legal system! God help us!
How can one find justice and fairness in a mentality like that? Frankly, I don’t expect it.
The ‘customs’ that surround a trial is comical. They treat it like it’s some holy event. The ‘trial area’ is as if roped off from the world and everything within that area is controlled. In many ways, this seems to be the judges main duty, to control the ‘sacred trial area’. Everything within that area must go according to specific ways and specific processes – the ‘mechanisms’ of law. There must not be anything to contaminate or alter it in any way. Once, an older juror got in a fit of coughing and quickly got up to go to the bathroom (which she’s not supposed to do during the ‘holy trial’). The judge had to stop the whole proceeding, like putting on the pause button, and ‘approve’ her leaving.
This emphasis on the ‘sacred trial area’, and the events within it, are nothing but the demonstration of the legal ‘mechanism’ which has become so critical in this philosophy. It has a complete and absolute reliance on it. In fact, it is only through the ‘mechanism of law’ that law is considered valid and true. It is the ‘mystery’ that makes everything it does correct, as if it were some sort of right of passage into truth.
I got a kick out we jurors, during recess, who were supposed to be the ‘voice of god’ revealing the truth in the case, were put in a room in which we could not leave, except to go the bathroom. And when that happened we had to be escorted by a guard. Not only that, we had to be careful of who we talked to as well, carefully avoiding anyone involved in the trial especially, as if we might catch an infection. It’s like we couldn’t be ‘contaminated’ by anything.
Coming up with the verdict was sort of comical. We went in the room and I could see everyone look at everyone with a look of “I don’t know what to do or think, I don’t know anything about this”. That blew me away. The legal system was handing over a verdict, a final decision, to a bunch of people that didn’t have a clue what was going on. And, what’s worse, they treated our verdict as if it was right, like a command from god!
And so we, the jurors, began to play the game of law and took part on the ‘comedy of law’: we “pretended” we knew what was going on. We had no choice. This, interestingly, was shown in the decision of the verdict. If I recall right, it went in thirds. One third felt the company was completely negligent and should pay the full amount. One third thought they weren’t negligent and shouldn’t pay. One third didn’t know. I was part of the group that didn’t think the company was negligent. I based this on the fact that no one knew its extreme flammable qualities. Even the Fire Marshall, who tested it for the trial, was stunned by its flammability. Not only that, the company that manufactured the product had discontinued it some years before, if I recall right, once they found this out (so they didn’t know it at first). To me it appeared that its extreme flammable nature was unknown to anyone at the time which means they weren’t “negligent”. It made sense to me but my argument didn’t sway one person!
Since we were a bunch of people that didn’t know anything but had to ‘pretend’ to know we made a compromise, if I recall right. We decided to have them only partially pay the amount (seems like it was about half). You see, this was basically us saying “we don’t know, we can’t decide”, but I seemed to be the only one who noticed that.
I will never forget when we walked in for the verdict. Everyone was standing as we walked in, looking at us like we were a holy relic. Then the verdict was given out: the voice from god!
After the verdict was given out, we were treated like nobodies, insignificant people, discarded like we were nothing. That cracks me up as, only moments before, we were the ‘voice of god’.
This made me question the validity of a jury. Since then I have always had doubts about the jury’s correctness and have often said that I wouldn’t want to put my life in the hands of a jury if it ever came down to that, as I don’t have any faith in them. From what I experienced, and would learn later, I just don’t think its the great thing people make it out as.
From this experience I began to question the validity of law and how it worked. At this point I would say that I am not all that convinced of the legal system nor do I put much faith in it. I don’t take anything the legal system says that seriously, in general, and never assume its correct.