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A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Miscreants of Northampton County...

The Old Court House (kool)
...were spared for another three years by the reluctance of the ADA and defense attorney to seat TOF on a jury today.  No reason was given  Perhaps it was his overall disreputableness.  And he went to all that trouble to dude up in a tie and sports jacket.  Shoulda remembered the pants.... 
(OK, Internet, that was tongue in cheek.)   

The Juror's Oath in the Commonwealth runs (per 234 PA 6 2(c)) the prospective juror's raise their right hand and respond to:
‘‘You do solemnly swear by Almighty God (and those of you who affirm do declare and affirm) that you will well and truly try the issue joined between the Commonwealth and the defendant(s), and a true verdict render according to the evidence.’’
The new courthouse annex (blah;
all the architects evidently died previously)
by saying "I do."  TOF reflected that the last time he said "I do" he was bound over for a 42 year-long-and-counting commitment.  He also noticed how weenie-sounding the "affirm" part sounded compared to solemn swearing by You-Know-Who.  Like the "well and truly" part, too.  The oath for witnesses goes back to colonial times (1772):
"You [and each of you] do swear by Almighty God, the Searcher of all hearts, that the evidence you shall give this court [and Jury] in this issue now being tried shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth and as you shall answer to God on the last great day."
but TOF did not get to hear the magisterial rumbling of those words.  "Searcher of all hearts," "the last great day,"...  This is serious weenie, the very syllables of which may cause a witness to think twice on what he is about to say.  But then that is the purpose of grand and formal phrasing.  Evidently, the sovereign Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is one of the last states in the Union to use such solemnity in its oathing. 

Northampton County Prison
conveniently located next door to the
courthouse for ease of miscreant handling
One of the pleasant side-effects of living in a small county is that two of the summoned jurors were related to each other, and another had served as an intern under the ADA who was prosecuting the case.  The last time TOF was called up, one of his grandchilden's teachers was in the pool.  It's a small world.

The presiding judge compared jury duty to being in an airport with a delayed flight.  There's nothing to do, and you aren't going anywhere.  He should speak for himself.  TOF managed to write five pages of The Shipwrecks of Time while waiting to be called.  

No one gets off jury duty for such silly reasons as being the sole-proprieter-employee of a business or a single-father-who-gets-only-one-paid-day off for jury duty.  But I noticed that after the ADA and defense attorney went through the list of forty candidates and chose their 12+2, neither of these people were on the jury.  No point being a hard-ass. 

Police lieutenant
The proprietor who said she would lose business if she was tied up for a couple days was a massage therapist.  TOF's solution was to have her give massages to the jurors, and we would take up a collection; but he forbore from suggesting such a happy concatenation of circumstances. 

Assisting the ADA was a police lieutenant from Easton who looked very much like the Nockamixon Cliffs rising above the Delaware River.  Also in the courtroom were a pair of county sheriff's deputies, since they are charged with the security of the prisoners.  Some PA State troopers were also seen floating about, no doubt involved in other cases underway.  So all three levels were represented.  Did not notice any of that most peculiar, and sometimes controversial breed: the Pennsylvania State Constables, who are under the governor rather than the courts, and who act something like government-sanctioned bounty hunters.

The Court of Common Pleas consists of three courts: Criminal Court, whither TOF was summoned to duty, Civil Court, and the wistfully-named Orphans Court.  The latter is Pennsylvania's court dealing with wills, inheritances, marriage and divorce, adoptions, and so on.  TOF wonders where uncommon pleas are heard. 

"What the hell is a prothonotary?" -- Harry S Truman

On the way to the cafeteria at lunch time, TOF passed the office of the county prothonotary.  Pennsylvania and Delaware are the only two states to call their chief clerk of the court by this august title, one which dates back to Byzantium.  There are two Canadian provinces and two Australian states that have likewise preserved the title.  Oh, and the Catholic Church, of course. 

TOF is a champion of diversity and has a soft spot in his head for these local peculiarities.  It will be a sad day when all the States are muscled into being homogenous duplicates of one another, as provinces of a one-size-fits-all central government.


13 comments:

  1. Both times I have received a summons for jury duty, I was never actually called in to be in a jury pool. I guess my civic mindedness is not in great demand... Of course, I have heard that lawyers do not want professionals such as engineers on juries, as they are prone to think for themselves and not be swayed as easily by emotion, so that might have something to do with it.

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    1. Actually, the judge told us we were to make up our own minds and not be swayed by group dynamics. What they want are jurors who follow and apply the law and not "make up their own minds" on that aspect.

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    2. > What they want are jurors who follow and apply the law and not "make up their own minds" on that aspect.

      And yet, from what I hear, engineers (the people most inclined to ignore group dynamics and follow logic, no matter what weird locations it leads them too) are systematically excluded from jury pools.

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    3. Interesting. I once lost a $20 bet on whether deer hunting was allowed in PA on a Sunday (it isn't or wasn't then) seeing as it was such a popular day for hunting in my area. I love what many would think is antiquated about PA. PA seems to be the "western" state of the NE, or maybe just many Pennsylvanians move to the west.

      As for thinking for one's self on a jury, jury nullification is common topic in my area as the Fully Informed Jury Association was founded in MT. In short, this is the idea that a juror also has the duty to his conscience to judge the law (I know, dangerous) and vote against convicting a defendant who is charged with an unjust law. Common examples include juries on deliberating the "fugitive slave law" offense during the War Between the States where they would not convict citizens of harboring escaped slaves even if they truly had harbored them. A modern example happened in my town in which marijuana distributors following the state's sanction of such were busted by the Feds. They were not convicted by local juries who always had someone hang the jury. Federalism in action?

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    4. In PA they fought a pitched battle against slave hunters who came north after a fugitive slave. At Christiana, I think. No trial.

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  2. Does Pennsylvania still use anything like 'you shall be hanged by the neck until dead. And may God have mercy on your soul'? Thinking any state with oaths that cool must really go all out when condemning people.

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  3. I rather like the county courthouse in Easton actually.

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  4. I'll be darned - I was in the same pool (#25 - didn't get picked either, but that was because #23 was the 12 juror).

    I felt sorry for the defendant - I don't know whether he was innocent or guilty, but he looked so anxious.

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    1. I did not see any apes there! I was #18. When they asked whether anyone was close to people in the legal system I asked if lawyers counted. My brother practices zoning law. I did not mention my first cousin's ex-husband, who was a police lieutenant in Easton, since we are not close. Haven't seen him in years. One of my father's cousins was a cop in P'burg, but I only met him once or twice. Legend says he once ran a stop light and gave himself a ticket; but there is reason to doubt the story.

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  5. Easy to define "prothonotary", but how is it pronounced? In case, you know, it comes up in conversation in the next few years.

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  6. Interestingly, here in Florida, there has been discussion of expanding the size of our juries in part, to summarize the law professor that was speaking on it, to increase the likelihood that group dynamics would come into play.

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  7. What do you call the prothonotary during months other than august?

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    1. I am still unsure if it is distinguished from an amateur thonotary.

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