Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Voir dire as leading ecconomic indicator

Jury Duty:  Spent the day down at the Maricopa County Superior court.  It was an interesting experience.

The court complex itself is several tall buildings linked by skybridges, and some of the buildings are clearly, much older than others.  The entry building is very modern, and the Jury assembly area looks almost exactly like an Airport Gate Area at any of your newer more modern airports with large screen televisions, free WiFi, Juror check-in kiosks etc.  The only difference I could tell was there was no jet noise, the TV's run Home and Garden network instead of Fox/CNN, and they didn't make us take off our shoes going through security.

Parking is a lot like the airport too, there is a Juror parking garage several blocks away and a shuttle bus that runs every 15 minutes.

Around 10am my group got called.  This was a group of 60 people randomly selected as candidates for a criminal trial, in this case, the State was alleging armed robbery.

The first part of any Jury selection is where the jurors try to come p with any excuse why they should not have to be there.  Remember friends, the joke that "you have the right to a trial by 12 of your peers who are too stupid to not be able to get out of jury duty" is a lot closer to reality than it ought to be.

This trial would have been for approximately 3-4 days, depending on how long deliberations took, including the selection day.  So lets be clear that this would be for an additional 2-3 days.

A lot of people claimed economic hardship to get out of their responsibility.  Several of those folk worked on commission or piecework, and while I'm convinced several people were just making excuses I could tell that several of them would probably feel the pinch of being out of work for 2-3 days.  Let's consider that.  If being out of work for a couple days is a real hardship, so is needing a new tire (or any minor repair) on your car. 

One lady was practically in tears because she was afraid she would be fired from her new job for attending jury duty.  Seriously. Now obviously sacking someone for doing their civic duty is seriously illegal, but how do you prove that? (although I'm guessing a jury of 12 people who couldn't get out of jury duty wouldn't be that sympathetic to the defendant in such a case)

We also had a couple of teachers who were whining about not wanting to miss class during the first week of school. Hint ladies, that's annoying, it's not a hardship, you have a Union and you get paid either way. Hell, I DON'T have a union and I get paid either way.

So after all of that, the judge dismissed 28 of the 60 potential jurors. Most of the folks who were left were retired, unemployed, or college students.

That's economically telling, and that's the real take-away here.  Even folks who do have jobs in this economy are running scared.  They don't want to take any risks with their earnings (not even 2-3 days worth) even though I do think most of them understand why it's important to serve. 

Fear drives economic decision making far more than hope.  And the amount of fear I saw in 60 random people about their economic future is a very telling, and very bad, sign for the economy.

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