Continuing last week’s discussion of civic affairs, I spent the day at the Hall of Justice in San Francisco. I was called to jury duty. This may have been the sixth or seventh time I’ve been summoned. I guess after thirty-five years in SF, that’s not excessive. Come to think of it, I don’t recall how many times I’ve been called, but I’ve actually been on six or seven juries over the years. Twice I’ve been jury foreman. And all but one case reached a verdict. With the added factor that federal employees are paid their full salaries while on jury duty, there’s a decent chance I may be selected for this case provided my name is drawn for voir dire. If so, I’ll have to reschedule some Kaiser appointments for next week.
I was impressed with the two slickly produced orientation videos played for us prospective jurors. That was something new from the last time I was at the Hall of Justice.
On the whole, my experience with the jury system is a variation of Winston Churchill’s comment about democracy: that it’s highly inefficient… but better than all the other options.
Sometimes juries reach questionable verdicts. A few weeks ago my boss at work put out various donuts and sweets with coffee. Among these were packages of Hostess Twinkies. I took one, but probably won’t eat it. I took it as a souvenir. I couldn’t help but think of Dan White’s voluntary manslaughter verdict in his murder case for assassinating Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. The defense had claimed that former Supervisor White’s mental capacity had been diminished by a sugar rush – from Hostess Twinkies!! It was called the “Twinkie Defense” in the local press.
Months later on May 21, 1979, I exited the Opera House after going to a comedy show by Peter Schickele, aka P.D.Q. Bach. The scene was surreal. Smoke was everywhere. Sirens were screaming. It seemed like dozens of police cars were on fire. The streets were packed with rowdy, violent demonstrators chased by police. The Dan White verdict had just been announced. Chaos surrounded City Hall. The reaction-riot was called “White Night.”
The thirtieth anniversary of the Moscone–Milk murders is coming up this Thanksgiving Day. Life occasionally delivers mixed messages.