Thursday, March 30, 2017

Jury Duty


I am not one to shirk my responsibility to the laws and rules of this country, but today I had an encounter with the Federal Court that made my blood boil. I was, yet again, summoned to jury duty. I get selected EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

I have jury duty every year. It is unavoidable that I will receive that piece of paper in the mail telling me it is my opportunity and obligation as a citizen of this nation. I used to think it was kind of annoying but I participated. Now I am wholly against this process and believe there must be a better way to have a jury of peers without burdening the citizens who are just not interested.

After the phone call I received and the letter I wrote, I am sharing here as my protest against this process that I believe is very much broken. Enjoy:

I have been faithfully upholding my responsibilities as a citizen of the United States and of Oregon. Over time, my trust in the juror system has been compromised and I have had some other thoughts that preclude me from being a part of a system that condemns other people with limited information and in a group of people with many different views on how to treat someone accused of a crime. Here are the reasons why I cannot faithfully participate in the jury system any longer. Some of them apply here, and some may not, but these are my reasons, in full:

1) It is said every time I receive a summons, and even this morning as I filed my information online, that it is a random draw, yet I get chosen every single moment I am within the legal parameters to serve on the jury. If it is local, I get chosen every 2 years. I was deferred last time because it was the week before Christmas and was told my obligation is done. And now 1 year later, I am being summoned to Federal court. I know they are not the same and I know I can be called in to serve, but it seems odd that my name gets selected every time. I would love to be part of a lottery to win money with these odds! I was raised in California and moved to Oregon to go to school. I moved out of state for about 4 1/2 years and moved back. Whenever I have been a resident of this state, I get selected to serve. My wife, on the other hand, who was born and raised in Oregon, has not ever been selected to serve and she would like to go do it. What about those odds? I do not believe it is random. I think there is a list and that the same people get selected until they prove to be a burden upon the system and are thus removed. It is not random and they have a list they work from and I happen to be on it. I don't know why.

2) The jury system was created so that we would maintain our rights as citizens to a swift and fair trial. "A jury of our peers" as it is said. However, in recent years, I have witnessed the downfall of people becoming less informed as to how we are to serve, what information is to be considered, and that we are now inundated with people who do not know much. Case in point: I last fulfilled my responsibilities as a juror in a case where a man was accused of stealing. The District Attorney (the prosecution) tried to bring up another instance where the defendant had been caught stealing. The judge overruled the use of this information and instructed the jury to ignore this piece of information in our deliberation. We were to "pretend" we had not heard it in executing our verdict. When we had heard all evidence, and went into the deliberation room, the "chair" of the jury brought up that he has been accused of this before and should be found guilty. When I brought up the fact that the judge said that was inadmissible evidence and that the store in question did not keep the video evidence of his theft, I maintained that he was innocent because of their negligence. We had NO evidence he had done anything. I am not a lawyer, but that's an easy case in my opinion. This "chairperson" said if someone did it before they would do it again and charged his guilt with past mistakes and did not even bring into account ANY evidence that had been presented. That was our job! To look at the evidence presented and to make our decision beyond reasonable doubt with that case and our chairperson went by the fact that she "hated people who steal". But I was bullied into marking a "guilty" charge by the entire room because they disagreed and if I didn't change my vote we were going to be held overnight to continue deliberating the next day. So I changed my vote and I believe justice was not served. I believe most citizens do not understand what they are dealing with when it comes to this. This kind of thing can alter a person's life and I do not want any part of it. If I were ever accused of a crime, I would want the evidence heard by a knowledgeable judge and not random people with judgment issues (to which I will speak about in a different bullet point). The jury system is broken.

3) Thirdly, this process is an undue financial burden to many people. I know from my research that many states do not require an excuse to get removed from jury duty. They simply check the box that states that they are unable to be on the jury. I am not financially in a place where a day out of work is good for me. It also takes me out of my regular daily duties I have to perform in order to make our Sunday morning assemblies at our church encouraging and special. I am the worship and young adult minister. I have responsibilities to entire demographic groups that only I can perform. If I miss a day of work for what I consider unimportant, it takes me days to catch up and I am held responsible by our church leadership and could lose my job if I drop the ball. The anxiety of being sick for a few days is a heavy burden on me. To leave and be at jury duty instead of writing my lesson for Bible class, or creating an uplifting worship service, is a heavy burden for me to bear. Let's be completely open here: it hurts some people financially to leave work to go and sit on a jury. When I worked for Fresh Aire Air Fresheners and received the last summons I was scared about my work and getting paid. I made less than $1000 a month and only 2 days per week to finish the work. It is unfair to say that the court will pay $40 for serving. That's not enough money and that is coming from someone who made $1000 a month.

4) Next, I am a man who believes in safety and security in my own person. I do not like feeling unsafe. I am a large man. I could hold my own if I were attacked. But I do not like to use my ability to defend myself. I have religious reasons why I do not like using my fists to hurt another person. I have only been in one fight my entire life and it was when I was in the 6th Grade. Another kid was bullying my younger brother (3rd Grade). I pushed the kid and he fell over. I knew right there the power I had and refused to use it. We walked away from any further skirmish that could have resulted had I kept hitting him while he was down. I have been bullied my entire life and have always hated the way bullies treat people.

With the election of Donald Trump (I did not vote for either of the two major party candidates, but a third-party candidate) I have watched and witnessed the way our more liberal communities respond when they don't get their way. Time after time, when something happens to someone they disagree with, they go into major cities and riot; breaking windows, setting fires, damaging cars, etc. I have worked downtown Portland for a brief 2 years as I was a tech/sales person for Fresh Aire Air Fresheners. I was constantly harassed by the citizens of the college, people who lived in the apartment buildings, and business owners, as well as the homeless. I would get my work done as quickly as possible to get the heck out of there every day. I have been harassed and chased by people who would ask me to sign their petitions for various amendments and bills that would be on the future ballot. If I refused they would swear and cuss and chase me for being "a white male with privilege" and a "racist".

I watched how people rioted when Trump was elected. I saw how Michael Strickland was treated for defending himself with his he is in jail for defending himself with the Second Amendment rights our Constitution guarantees. A journalist who protected himself as he reported on the riots was arrested for pulling out his legal concealed weapon. He never had his finger on the trigger and once he was out of harm's way, re-holstered it. He was punished for doing everything in accordance with the law.

As of today, I refuse to go into Multnomah County for any reason. It is not worth the possibility of being accosted for disagreeing with the views of the governmental leadership that is housed down there. Portland is not safe whether the Mayor or our Representatives say so or not. I grew up in Stockton, California and know too well what safe cities are and are not. Portland is not safe. I know from experience and it has nothing to do with what the media have reported. I also have a non-life threatening, undiagnosed anxiety about traveling and walking around in Multnomah County. Downtown Portland is no longer a fun destination to shop, eat, or take in a show. I feel it every time I have to go there. It is personal and I cannot perform to my fullest ability while there.

5) As I have researched, it is said that religious reasons are not considered for being excused from jury duty. I heard it again today. I know that is what the law says, but I disagree. As a minister (of a combined 12+ years), I cannot participate in a system that has ignorant and sinful people making judgments upon others. I am sure you are familiar with the passage in Matthew 7:1 where Jesus tells the listeners (in His Sermon on the Mount --Matthew 5-7) that they are to "[J]udge not, that you be not judged." I would make sure that we know not to take this out of context so if we keep reading in verses 2-5, "For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log our of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." Clearly Jesus is telling the listeners to not judge someone upon which you hold the same offense. There is a time to make a judgment of moral decisions. We are called to "judge with right judgment" (John 7:24) when someone is doing wrong. But in the passage in Matthew 7, Jesus is telling the hearer that if we judge the same measure will be used to judge us in eternity. Without knowing what the case is about, I cannot know if I would be fit to make a decision (judge) whether someone is guilty or innocent and to make such a decision would require me to go outside of my faith with which I hold to be the first and most important thing in my life. No government, no power, no authority comes before God.

In Titus 1:5 and 1 Peter 2:13-17, it could be said that no matter who is in power, who is in authority, we are to submit our will to them and obey them. But we also know that in those passages, it clearly states that all authority in those positions come from God and He is the final authority with which they submit and it is not without God that they hold their positions and they are not free from rebuke when they do not follow God's will. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego all defied the orders of the Kings they were under. Daniel continued to pray to God even though Darius had decreed that no one pray to anyone but him. Daniel was thrown into a den of lions but God shut their mouths (Daniel chapter 6). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, taken from their heritage and their names changed from Hebrew names to exile names refused to bow to the golden statue of the King. They were ordered to be thrown into the fiery furnace. God saved them from the fire (Daniel 3:8-30).

John the Baptist confronted King Herod with his sin of taking his brother's wife from his brother Philip. The daughter of Herodias asked for John the Baptist to be beheaded for this. But the King was sorry for this oath and promise he made to her. When Jesus heard about this he went to be alone (Matthew 14:1-13). When David sinned by taking Bathsheba and having relations with her and getting her pregnant, he put Uriah (her husband) to the front line of the battle they were fighting so he would die. Nathan confronted David and said you are despising the Word of the Lord and doing evil. (2 Samuel 12).

I have many other examples I could give, but I will stop there. It is one thing to obey basic laws and rules. We are commanded to do so. It is another to defy the will of God and obey orders, rules, and laws that go against His will. I will not be a part of that. I cannot judge another person based on the limited evidence seen within a summons. I would not know whether I could uphold the basic functions of a jury if I do not know ahead of time what the case is about. Even so, I am commanded by God to not judge another person because if I am ever in the same situation, God will judge me according to the measure used to make a judgment in a courtroom. Religious objections should and do matter in whether one is fit to serve on a jury and I would hope to see this taken into account in jury pool creation.

I hope you will respect my positions and take me out of the jury pool. I understand you probably receive ridiculous excuses for why one cannot fulfill the obligations placed on them. I hope you do not see this as ridiculous but as a real, sincere, and highly personal conscientious objection to the jury process. It is one I once did not care for but complied. Today, I am firmly against this process and would be unable to commit time and would be unprepared to perform properly. I do not believe this process is fair or just.

Thank you for your time. I respect the difficult job you have and the time it takes to present information and to deal with such a process. I have nothing personal against you or the court. It is that I believe that there are many issues and believe they will never be fully resolved for the citizens of this state or the country until people receive a better education in how to conduct themselves, how to allow conscientious religious objections, and to fix and reform frivolous lawsuits.

I thanked them for their time. They excused me for financial hardship, but that isn't my point in item #3 at least not really. It goes deeper than that and it seems like she just didn't want to deal with me any longer today. But I will receive another summons next year to serve on the county court. I went on to send this to our Governor and our State Senator and Representative. I will have to wait and see if they respond with a real response or another form letter like the ones I receive from Suzanne Bonamici every time I write to her.

UPDATE!!! April 3, 2017
My letter was shared with the jury judge and he wrote back:

"Dear Mr. Lewis -
My name is Paul Papak and I am a United States Magistrate Judge. One of my duties, assigned by our Chief Judge, is to manage the grand jury and petit jury panels. It is in that capacity that I am responding to your email of 3/30/2017.

I did not read your thoughtful email as "ridiculous" or "insincere." Instead, I read it as intended - as a real, sincere and highly personal response to the obligations of jury service. And while I respect your view, it is precisely the thoughtfulness of your position that leads me to conclude that you should not be excused from jury service. As you know, our jury system offers a guarantees to a criminal defendant that his charges will be determined by a jury of his peers. That jury should be composed of a fair cross section of the people living in the jurisdiction where the alleged crime occurred. Your view of the jury system, while perhaps a minority view, is part of the views that make up that fair cross-section and to the guarantee of a trial by jury. Of course, you are free to express those views in more detail if you are actually chosen for a jury panel and it is possible that one of the lawyers may choose to strike you from service. But that is exactly how the system is supposed to work.

I have been trying cases for twelve years as a judge and for almost thirty years before that as a lawyer. While I often didn't agree with a jury verdict I was always impressed by the hard work and responsibility that the jurors put into their decision. I hope a time will come when you serve as a juror in federal court and I that the experience will change your current opinion.
Sincerely, Paul Papak"

So I wrote back to the jury court liaison and told her I appreciated it. She responded that I was now supposed to be there at 8am tomorrow. What? I thought I was he is overturning it and has the final say.

Wow. So now I have to figure out how to get my children to school and home. Find someone to watch my new dog. AND let work know I won't be there.

She responded I didn't ever say anything about needing childcare. I responded that I didn't know I needed to say anything about having to get childcare because it wasn't an issue on the day I sent my email. Now the day before I have to report, it IS an issue.

I maintain this system is broken and needs serious reform. It is an undue burden to the people.
She wrote back and asked if I would like to be deferred again now that childcare is an issue. I responded, "The child care isn't an issue if I know I have to be there and have time to plan ahead. I didn't think I needed to include that with all of my other positions. Does my entire life have to be the business of the government? I want the government to leave me alone. I guess I need to expand my letter to 6 through 8 points. I need to be let out of jury duty, please."

And she again deferred my service.

This system is broken people. I am sure my case is mild compared to the hardships some have to live in and try to fulfill the burden the court system places on people.