Menendez Bros + My Jury Duty Pt 3 + a Podcast Note

Photo of Menendez brothers with their father, Jose, whom they murdered.
Photo of Menendez brothers with their father, Jose, whom they murdered.

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.

Almost every day in Los Angeles is sky perfection.
Almost every day in Los Angeles is sky perfection.

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.

Sculpture of "Young Lincoln" by James Hansen, 1939, located at Los Angeles Spring Street Courthouse.
Sculpture of “Young Lincoln” by James Hansen, 1939, located at Los Angeles Spring Street Courthouse.

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.

Sculpture of "Law" by Archibald Garner, 1939, located at Los Angeles Spring Street Courthouse.
Sculpture of “Law” by Archibald Garner, 1939, located at Los Angeles Spring Street Courthouse.

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.

So very many people in Los Angeles live in tents or in cardboard boxes.
So very many people in Los Angeles live in tents or in cardboard boxes.

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?

Me, leaving the courthouse.
Me, leaving the courthouse.

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!

My Abortion Story + Jury Service Pt 2

Your comments to Part 1 of this post on my jury duty have lent me courage.

On Olvera Street, you can buy stuff like these Calaveras-style (skeleton) caricatures and plush versions of Mexican pastries. Photo by da-AL.
On Olvera Street, you can buy stuff like these Calaveras-style (skeleton) caricatures and plush versions of Mexican pastries. Photo by da-AL.

In posts and comments here and elsewhere, I often mention the importance of blogging, how delighted I am that social media and our freely commenting allow us to become closer to each other. The simpler it is for people to express themselves into the ethers, the smaller our the world becomes. When we speak from our hearts and personal experience, we see we all need each other and that every single one of us linked in doing our best to get by each day.

All that, and still I left out a vital bit of my own story last time. In that post, “My Jury Duty Pt 1 + Infidel753 Works for Justice and Freedom to Choose,” guest blogger Infidel753 told of his experience as a volunteer for an abortion clinic. As a “pro-choice escort,” he navigated women past the intimidation efforts of anti-choicers. As a result, some readers were inspired shared their views on abortion rights. (By the way, My Jury Duty Pt 3 is here.)

Pico House, across from downtown Los Angeles' historic Olvera Street. Photo by da-AL.
Pico House, across from downtown Los Angeles’ historic Olvera Street, was built in 1870. Photo by da-AL.

My Story

When I was in my mid-20s, I terminated two pregnancies. Within the same year, I got pregnant twice, each time using different forms of birth control. At the time, I’d been living with a boyfriend since I was 18, a sweet, intelligent man I loved dearly.

We were surviving on sporadic work, earning hardly above minimum wage. For that and many more reasons, I didn’t feel like I could give a child the kind of start on life that I would have wanted.

The procedures were expensive and weren’t covered by my health insurance. Each was horribly painful. Afterward, I ran fevers of 104 and was forced to take days off from work, which I could barely afford.

The picturesque old church across from Olvera Street. Photo by da-AL.
The picturesque old church across from Olvera Street. Photo by da-AL.

Fortunately…

I had a kind lover to help me through. Never have I regretted my decisions.

In addition, in my 30s, I was sexually assaulted. Good luck, as if the term can apply to any part of such a trauma, is the only reason I didn’t get pregnant.

Throughout, I’ve enjoyed sheer fortune. What I mean is, the freedom to choose is easy for lucky women, regardless of laws. Those to whom life offers stepping stones and opportunities, circumstances that allow them respectable status and money — they can always spend enough to choose when and if they have children.

Part of the fun of jury duty was walking the local sights, like these stalls of Olvera Street. Photo by da-AL.
Part of the fun of jury duty was walking the local sights, like these stalls of Olvera Street. Photo by da-AL.

Choice

When people are eager to control others, they often interject comments about the for people to “be held accountable.” Their fingers continually point, and always away from themselves.

When we kid ourselves that we know what’s better for our neighbor, it’s easy to view the world as “them” vs. “us.” It’s not so very long ago when United States medical officials decided it was ok to pretend to treat black people for syphilis when really they were studying the full progression of the disease. (Check out that real life horror out here.)

If a woman is resource-poor, network impoverished, lacking in status, uneducated, plain ol’ poor and any of the rest of the often insurmountable challenges life can present — the option to decide whether she bears children is often beyond reach.

What if you’re very young and your family is the opposite of a Hallmark card? What if you’re not emplyed? Or your job doesn’t provide insurance and sick days? What if the rape was more than you could bear? And you don’t want the added burdens of facing the police, defending your reputation as well as your case, can’t afford a good lawyer, and don’t want to confront whoever assaulted you in court?

It was closed when I strolled by, but here’s where you can go up to see a David Alfaro Siqueiros (one of Mexico's greatest muralists) mural that was hidden for many years. Photo by da-AL.
It was closed when I strolled by, but here’s where you can go up to see a David Alfaro Siqueiros (one of Mexico’s greatest muralists) mural that was hidden for many decades. Photo by da-AL.  

Accountability and Responsibility

What if, what if, what if? No, it’s no one’s business why or how many times any woman has an abortion.

When statistics tally how many people consider abortion acceptable, they sidestep the real question. What begs to be asked is whether government is entitled to rule the female body.

It is neither your right nor mine to decide who gets abortions, to force anyone to get sterilized, or to force them to bear a child.

What is your business and mine is this: it’s their body. End of story.

Is it still legal to get an abortion?

How sad that anyone needs to ask. Mercifully, the answer in the United States is yes, in good measure due to the work of Planned Parenthood.

The organization offers all kinds of affordable health care, mostly but not all concerning reproductive health, to all genders, all ages, all over the world. Interestingly, in 1970, President Richard Nixon signed into law funding for family planning services, Planned Parenthood included. According to Wikipedia, Nixon decreed, “no American woman should be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic condition.”

Remember, however, it’s not enough to win our rights — we must continually work to retain them. Unfortunately, the right to choose is continually endangered by anti-choicers.

Need proof we can’t rest on our laurels? According to Wikipedia, here’s what happened elsewhere: “Poland is one of the few countries in the world to largely outlaw abortion after decades of permissive legislation during Polish People’s Republic. About 10-15% of Polish women seek abortion in neighbouring countries due to the strict restraints in their own country. Poland’s abortion law is one of the most restrictive in Europe, along with a group of other traditionally Roman Catholic countries of the region (Malta, San Marino, Liechtenstein, Vatican, Monaco and Andorra).”

In non-Covid-19 times, the plaza at the mouth of Olvera Street is filled with performers and audiences. Photo by da-AL.
In non-Covid-19 times, the plaza at the mouth of Olvera Street is filled with performers and audiences. Photo by da-AL.

What about Pt 2 of my jury duty?

It was a holiday weekend, so we all stayed home that Monday.

Since my car was in the shop, on Tuesday my husband lent me his car. Ten minutes away from home, his “check engine” light blinked on.

Fortunately (a word I don’t use lightly, as explained several headings ago), I had another car I could borrow. My mom lives with us and she was away visiting my brothers who live in different states. Can one take a vacation when one is retired? Regardless, her generosity allowed me to continue jury duty, albeit half an hour tardy that day.

Today’s post was an emotional one and it took a lot out of me so I’ll leave off here and fill you in on the rest of my jury service next time…

Here's one entrance to the Olvera Street outdoor mall. Photo by da-AL.
Here’s one entrance to the Olvera Street outdoor mall. Photo by da-AL.

In the meantime, since the courthouse was in the Los Angeles Historic District, these photos are of Olvera Street. I walked there during our lunch break. According to Wikipedia, it’s “been the main square of the city since the early 1820s, when California was still part of Mexico, and was the center of community life[ until the town expanded in the 1870s.”

How much control do you want your government to have over your body?

My Jury Service Pt 1 + Infidel753 Works for Justice and Freedom to Choose

Photo of Spring Stree Courthouse, Los Angeles, California, By Los Angeles - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4070759
Photo of Spring Street Courthouse, Los Angeles, California, by Los Angeles – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4070759

Consider me two weeks behind in everything, including the story I’ll begin with below. I’ve just finished jury duty, so in terms of everything from blogging and novel writing to general life stuff plus venturing into a podcast version of Happiness Between Tails.

Thank you Infidel753 for generously guest posting here today! Before we get to him, indulge me in a recount of Part 1 of my recent civic experience. Find Pt 2 here and find Pt 3 here.

Jury duty. Duty. Justice.

Justice, doing one’s duty can be inconvenient. Same with voting, giving blood, and such. How far we’ll put ourselves out to work for the greater good is no body else’s business. I only hope we’re all thoughtful and kind about our choices, soul-searchingly aware that our only hope is if we know we’re all in this together. Each of us is a potential everyday hero for each other, all of us breathing the same air, if you get what I mean.

Friday before last, I started my service. Is jury duty the same all over the United States? All I know is California. Strike that. All I only know Los Angeles County.

A cousin in the UK reports jurors there rioted over crummy sandwiches they got for lunch. Lunch?! Believe me, here we’d be overjoyed to be offered anything other than tap water from the building’s fountains. The cafe in the basement charges for food. And it closed daily at 12:30 (maybe because of COVID restrictions?) even though lunch breaks were usually noon to 1:30.

Photo of Walt Disney Concert Hall By jjron - Own work; stitched panorama from seven original images, GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19436299
Photo of Walt Disney Concert Hall by jjron – Own work; stitched panorama from seven original images, GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19436299

Parking where I served, the Spring Street Courthouse, was a little over half a mile away and included a shuttle ride. Loving exercise, I didn’t mind jogging instead. The garage was beneath the Walt Disney Concert Hall, which is quite something to see as it’s one of Frank Gehry’s architectural marvels.

Let me rewind to before I got there.

The way jury duty works here, for a week, every night one calls to see if they’ll be needed the following day. I’d heard that if you’re not needed by Thursday morning, you’re home free.

Not so, Nay, nay, nay. Thursday night, they instructed me to go in — to a location much further than originally promised.

Photo of 701 Freeway, Los Angeles, California, By Dicklyon - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76153668
Photo of 701 Freeway, Los Angeles, California, by Dicklyon – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76153668

Along the drive there, on the 710, a busy freeway favored by semi-trucks, my engine blew, stalled, went caput. After $2,000 and another week, I’m hoping I’ll be able to drive it again. It happened on the lane second from the fastest as vehicles wizzed by. Mercifully, on that section of road, there was a safety shoulder to coast onto. After several deep breaths to calm myself and to count my lucky stars, I called AAA for a tow. They told me to sit tight for an hour. Then I phoned the courthouse, expecting they’d excuse me, but they wanted me to call them back later.

Within ten minutes, a Metro angel tow truck pulled up behind and rescued me!

If you ever break down on a Los Angeles freeway, call 511. For no charge, they’ll come out faster than anyone else can and help you get your car running (i.e., jump start, tire change, gallon of gas, radiator water, etc.) or tow you to the nearest exit.

From there, AAA took me to my mechanic, where my husband met me (whew! he was working from home that day). It was 12:15 when I arrived home. When I phoned the courthouse, they asked me to get there ASAP.

I inhaled lunch and darted through confusing one-way streets of downtown in search of jury for parking. No one said it would be far from the actual site… Fortunately, I didn’t run anyone over as I dialed the jury room…

At 2:15, soaked from running downhill and uphill as well as roaming the courthouse, I got there. An hour later, I became a juror for the first time.

Now for today’s guest, Infidel753. He’s blogged here before, when he amazed everyone by his compassionate veganism, which is despite his not being into cuddling up with furry and feathered and scaly folk.

Wait! Surely you’re curious about how the trial went? Check back soon for that tale, dear readers. In the meantime, here’s a photo of how our tomatoes (first introduced here) are coming along…

Close up of 3 huge tomatoes from my garden.
The best tomatoes are home grown!

Back to Infidel753, whose courage and conviction amaze me. Definitely check out his site. His Sunday posts are especially popular. That’s when he offers tons of funny and sober links. Here’s a picture from one of his links that still makes me laugh, particularly since this guy resembles my dear K-D doggie (who surely regrets being cared for by me who doesn’t eat meat).

Photo of a dog with a huge bone wearing a sneaker in it's mouth.

Here Infidel753 recounts the period of time when he stuck his neck out as a “pro-choice escort”…

A small contribution to the fight for freedom by Infidel753

For about a year, starting in late 2003, I volunteered as a “pro-choice escort” at an abortion clinic here in Portland.  The anti-choice protesters gathered there every Saturday morning to harass the clinic’s clients, so Saturday mornings were when I and the other escorts had to be there.

Most of the volunteers came as often as they could — on any given morning there were three to six of us there.  The only ones who were there every Saturday were S and W, the informal leaders of the team.  We were always careful to avoid mentioning full names or identifying information — in at least one case, the anti-choicers had managed to identify one escort and started sending him threats through the mail.  S was a woman, W a man.  The escorts generally were about 50-50 male and female.

Theoretically, the escorts’ main job was to be on the alert for protesters harassing the clinic’s clients on their way to and from the building, and intervene to shield them.  In practice, such cases seldom arose.  Most clients parked in a lot at the back to which the protesters had no access, and even when some did use the front door, the protesters rarely approached them.  But if there had been no escorts present and ready to intervene, I’m quite sure the anti-choicers would have approached and harassed them much more often than they did.  Our presence served as a deterrent.

Aside from that, both sides were engaged in more of a kind of psychological warfare.  The enemy’s goal was intimidation — making the clinic’s staff and clients feel isolated and surrounded by hostile forces.  Our purpose as escorts was to provide a positive presence to counter this negativity, so that clients would not feel they were in completely hostile territory.

Most of the protesters were regulars, and we knew their habits.  Some just stood around holding signs.  Some engaged in ostentatious religious chanting and praying.  Some stood as close to the clinic as the law allowed and performed long, bellowing diatribes which always seemed to be more about God and the Bible than about abortion as such.  There was one protester who always wore a gun, which I was told he had a permit for.  Due to some previous incident, there was a standing court order prohibiting him from being on our side of the street, so he stood across the street and scowled at us.  Another protester had a personal fixation on S; he had once said to her, “Women like you deserve to be raped”.  I once heard a protester shout at a man who was accompanying a woman into the clinic, “Why are you letting that woman kill your baby?  Be dominant, sir!  Be a man!”  Yes, he really said that.

I never saw any actual violence, but the situation was often tense, especially when there was a new person among the protesters, since anyone new to us was by definition unpredictable.  We all knew about cases in other parts of the country where clinics had been bombed or doctors murdered by the fanatics, and in at least one case an escort had been killed.  So we were always alert for any sign of danger.

The escorts had varied motives for being there.  I hold individual freedom to be among the highest values, and if someone else can infringe on your absolute freedom to decide what happens inside your own body, then what freedom can you securely lay claim to?  S had strong feminist convictions, and W was a libertarian who opposed the anti-choicers’ goal of forcing others to abide by their own religious taboos.  Most of the other escorts, as best I could tell, had some combination of similar motives.

Confronting religious fanaticism face-to-face is very different from reading about it in books.  Ever since that year, I’ve had a much deeper sense of what these people’s mentality is really like.  They will not be satisfied until the lives of the rest of us are dictated by the taboos of their own religion, backed up by the force of law, as in Iran or Saudi Arabia.

The clinic was in a residential neighborhood, and local people would often stop and chat with the escorts, bringing us hot drinks on cold mornings or otherwise offering encouragement.  On one occasion an elderly woman approached me and said, “I don’t agree with abortion, but I’m glad to see a man standing up for women’s right to make their own decisions.”  And that’s what it was really about — the right of all of us to make our own decisions, not have them made for us by somebody else’s religion.

Read a longer version of the above at Infidel753’s site here.

What is duty like for you?