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Slashdot in Jury Duty?

2008 January 22
by Nayan Hajratwala

This morning I reported to the Washtenaw County Trial Court for jury duty. This was my first time, so I was actually pretty excited to see how the whole process worked. The only downside was that since I’m self-employed, no-workee == no $$.

We started off in a group of about 100 people on the top floor, where we viewed a couple videos about the history of jury trials (i.e. High School Government class revisited) and some slightly more relevant info specific to Michigan State Law.

The Clerk/Baliff then called out numbers for about 50 of us, and we headed down to the courtroom. We sat in the back of the room while the judge gave us some preliminary information about the case. He told us it was going to be an Armed Robbery case and gave us a few technical details about what it meant to prove reasonable doubt. The prosecutor then listed off her expected witnesses, and the defense attorney introduced the defendant, who was (to my surprise) seated in the courtroom.

The bailiff called the initial 12 jurors to sit in the Jury Box. Over the next hour or so, about 20 jurors were dismissed by the judge for “cause” or by the attorneys via their pre-emptory challenges. Each one was replaced by those of us sitting at the back.

Eventually, one young man with long hair was called to the jury box. I didn’t catch his name, but immediately pegged him as a fellow geek. When he was seated, the judge asked the man to confirm his occupation which was listed as “Journalist” on the juror questionnaire that we had all filled out and mailed in months earlier. The dialog went something like this:

Judge: “You are a Journalist?”

Man: “Uh… well… kind of…”

Judge: “What does that mean?”

Man: “Well … I just wrote that down hoping that I wouldn’t get picked for Jury Duty.”

Judge (maintaining his cool quite well): “What is your current occupation?”

Man: “Umm … I’m a Web Master for a news website.”

So I immediately had several problems with this. First, if you’re going to lie on your jury questionnaire, why would you tell that to the judge in open court? Clearly you’re already a dishonest person, trying to weasel your way out of your civic duty so a little more dishonesty couldn’t hurt, right? Second, who still calls themselves “Web Master”? Isn’t that title reserved for people who are fresh out of community college and can get by with some marginal HTML sk1llz?

Throughout this whole exchange, the man had a look of smugness on his face, like “Check out how cool I am. I’m really subversive.”

Well, whatever — I kept thinking that the judge was going to give him a lecture, but I suppose judges are used to this kind of idiocity in their courtrooms.

Next, the prosecutor followed up with some more questions:

Prosecutor: “What kind of website do you have?”

Man: “News about technology… like when Intel releases a new motherboard … (blah blah blah) …”

Prosecutor: “So, are you a journalist or not?”

Man (with air of self-importance): “I’m a blogger… There’s actually a big debate about whether or not bloggers are classified as journalists.”

Look dude, there is a man in this courtroom who is looking at some serious jail time for Armed Robbery. This is a serious situation that is not about you. No one here cares about bloggers, web masters, or motherboards.

In the end, the prosecutor dismissed the man, and I just caught the tail end of his name this time “… Malda”. Could it be? I knew he lived in the Ann Arbor area, so I looked up some pictures online after I left the court, and sure enough, the bozo juror was none other than Slashdot‘s own Rob Malda.

I’d say I might have read the situation wrong, but several of the people around me expressed the same opinion after we left.

Just for completeness — I never got a chance to go to the jury box, as all the jurors were approved before my number was called… On the plus side, I did get my $17 ($12.50 + $4.50 for mileage) for a half day of service though! Woo!