Justice — trials, how our system works, lawyers, juries… all these topics have been on my mind since I recently completed doing jury duty. Since the week before I started it (here are Part 1 and Part 2 about it), I’ve wondered about the Mendez brothers. You know, those rich guys who killed their parents back in the late 1980s. This video I checked out from my happy place, a.k.a. any public library, explains their story.
The brothers somewhat physically resemble my two older brothers, plus we three were raised “tennis-y.” Our household wasn’t hellish in the way of Lyle and Eric’s, but controlling and cruelty and looking the other way existed.
Please don’t get me wrong: a) my brothers aren’t killers and they’re nothing like the Menendez — and b) I believe murder is despicable.
Unlike the Menendezes, we didn’t suffer rich-people burdens. Here’s one man’s take on growing up “in tennis” for some players at the nosebleed rungs. Our dad wasn’t a powerful movie mogul, and we weren’t indoctrinated to keep up with the Beverly Hills set. There are benefits to being an apartment-dwelling plebeian. Tennis earned my brothers college scholarships. As for me, I set out on my own the moment I graduated high school, determined to sooner resort to prostitution than go back.
As a writer, I began as a journalist, then later attended a course on fiction. A classmate, Vonda Pelto, wanted to learn story telling for a recount of her former career as a psychiatrist at the downtown Los Angeles jail. Her primary function was to prevent serial killers from dying by suicide. How’s that for irony? (Here’s an enlightening article about discussing suicide.) Her patients ranged from Charles Manson and porn star John Holmes, to “Hillside Strangler” Ken Bianchi and “Freeway Killer” William Bonin.
Clearly, those killers fall into a different category than the Menendez brothers.
Back to jury duty…
For a thumbnail of what I posted about jury duty so far, picture “Car Problems” as my middle name. Was it mere coincidence that the morning my mom lent me her car, in front of the courthouse was a man in a t-shirt with a “check engine” logo?
Every trip to and from downtown was a winding tour of Siri workarounds to Los Angeles traffic. Siri kindly even warned me of traffic cameras. The Spring Street Courthouse is snuggled among the Toy District, Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Union Station, Grand Central Market, the Bradbury Building of “Bladerunner” movie renown, and more. Slogging along freeways to get there and back would have been unbearable without my beloved audiobooks.
It’s years since I’ve visited the area. Sadly, the number of people who live on the sidewalks has exploded. Flimsy domed homes shelter people along corners, alleys, freeway overpasses and underpasses. I don’t know an end-all remedy, only that “them” is “us.” Whenever I left my juror chair, I kept my little backpack near. How is anyone mobile enough to find a job, see a doctor, take a leak, do anything, when their worldly goods are housed within a nylon tent parked in the middle of a city?
The trial I worked on involved an RV park, privately run yet publicly owned, endeavoring to evict a couple.
On one hand, one of the two renters had recorded park employees, those not wearing mandated Covid19-preventative masks. They used the evidence to report them to the health department. On the other hand, staff accused the renters of impeding their work and bothering fellow tenants by failing to consistently leash their dog.
Management had a slicker lawyer and employees willing to smooth over their sloppy record keeping. The tenants brought neighbors (via an extremely problematic videoconferencing setup) who stated they loved the dog and the couple.
Ah, the dog! Mike was old, pudgy, and wore a vest that suggested he was an emotional service provider (any dog is, no?). I first noticed him when he snored from the opposite end of the vast courtroom. Basically, he slept and sometimes slurped water.
Hearing testimonies is nothing akin to dynamic TV shows and high drama movies. Questions get reframed in endless ways so lawyers can reveal details otherwise not allowed. Did I say it was boring? Many jurors were there only because they heard rumors that not showing up can result in a $1,500 fine.
This case ran four days, not counting the Friday of jury selection. Monday was a holiday. Tuesday through Thursday were for evidence disclosure, a process rendered mind-numbingly. The last Friday morning was for the lawyers’s closing speeches. Here again, imagine what money buys in terms of lawyers.
Management’s was organized and smooth.
The residents’s insisted on using an overhead projector that blinked his pages onto the screen so annoyingly that I half-closed my eyes. To his credit, he opened with a salient point; each side had recorded, antagonized, and vilified each other. Amen.
Then it was time for a shortened lunch. Then deciding whether the tenants ought to be evicted.
Hand on any religious tome you prefer I swear on, I had every intention to review evidence and turn over every rock.
Twelve jurors: roughly fifteen questions to vote on. The list was one of those affairs of, “if you vote this, answer this or skip this…” Each question required only nine votes to pass.
Within some questions, the word “substantial” was used. Was the residents’s rule-breaking and annoying of neighbors “substantial”? Four months earlier, after they were served a seven-day notice to clean up their acts, did they? Substantially? Definitely, but fellow jurors noted that management had spied near-catatonic Mike off-leash once or twice.
A juror reminded us that the residents bothered neighbors over the past year when twice they called the cops. First, when one renter was assaulted by a stranger, then later when she spotted the assaulter lurking.
I asked the juror, “If a sick neighbor needed to summon an ambulance twice over the last year, would you evict them?”
She nodded her head.
Except for mine, the votes were unanimous. They voted so quickly, and with so little discussion and consideration of evidence, as if they’d made snap judgements, I wonder if justice was truly served.
I’m told the renters can appeal and it was their choice whether to have their trial judged by a judge or a jury. It was an honor to serve, and I learned a lot, though not what I’d expected.
Maybe in the end, like with the Menendez brothers, it boiled down to looking into faces and choosing whether they deserved another chance. TV’s Columbo only needed to solve crimes, not decide whether they were redeemable…
What do you think of our trial system? Would you choose a jury or a judge to decide your case? Do you think the Menendez brothers have served long enough?
Wait — a non-jury thing — I’ve already converted several blog posts into podcasts via the WordPress-to-Anchor function. Once Apple’s podcast app accepts them into its feed, you’ll be the first to know!