Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Joys Of Jury Service

Last Tuesday, I completed my annual visit to Downtown Los Angeles and the county courthouse to serve my jury duty.
In Los Angeles county, the policy is one day and or one trial. In other words, one is on call for a week. If you call everyday and are not asked to go to the assigned court in your summons, you are done.
However, I did not dodge that bullet.
And I should make the admission that I am one of the few people that actually likes jury duty. I see it as a huge contribution to the American idea of citizenship. What amazes me is how much so many people will do and or say anything to get out of jury duty.
On Monday, August 18, I had to make my trek on the Gold Line light rail system. It is one of the few conveniences of local public mas transit. Its a short walk or bike ride from Union Station to the courthouse.
I arrived at the appointed time, went through the metal detector putting my backpack through and all my other stuff in a large plastic bowl. After going through that, I went to the 11th floor assembly room and went through the orientation that I have head and seen so many times that I could give it. After that, it was time to wait to see if I would be called as park of a larger panel to a courtroom. And before lunch, a nice short hour and a half, I was part of a group of 30 called to a courtroom.
After lunch we were told by the judge that the case we would hear would be about a residential first degree burglary and it would be a short trial. As it turned out, a short trial of six days. It took two full days to pick and seat a jury. Twelve jurors and two alternates, a standard for a criminal case.
So we were treated to the opening statements of the prosecutor and the defense attorneys. And to be clear, I thought that the openings left a lot to be desired.
The short version of the trial is that a 20-year old guy went to Hollywood with his brother to "pick up chicks" as was described in not so many words by both sides. The one brother supposedly hooked-up with a gal and went back to her apartment. That left the defendant all by his lonesome. After about five minutes, he did not think that his brother would come back for him and he began to wander. Wander all the way up the Hollywood Hills to a nice, large home that had a For Lease sign. After finding a way to break into the home, which was a sizable dumbbell, the defendant opened the door and went inside. He went to the kitchen and pulled out a lot of food and drink. But the one thing he did not count on was that the homeowner would be home. She was and called the police, who responded quickly. Quickly enough to prevent the defendant from doing anything more. He tried to escape but ended up leaning in a hiding position next to a tree.
But the defense had an amusing version of events. They did not argue that the defendant did not break into the home. But the reason they used is that the defendant was tired, hungry and was looking for a place to sleep. And that the Metro train subway stopped running after midnight, when the event occurred. And he had no way to get home because he did not have a cell phone. But he did have $9.60c in his pocket.
A note here for pick-up artists, aka PUAs.
If you expect to pick up chicks, you kind of really need more than $9.60c in your pocket. Really.
Mind you this is Hollywood. There are many fast food establishments. There are gas stations. There are even such archaic things as pay telephones. He could have called his parents that he lives with. He could have even done that as a collect call. He could have grabbed a bite at a fast food establishment or even a gas station. In other words, there were many other ways to get home to sleep that the defense was trying to convince us jurors of.
So in the trial we heard from three uniform police officers, a detective and the defendant himself. No one was especially memorable except the defendant. For he was unbelievably bad. He did himself no favor whatsoever. In fact, it was his testimony that cemented what I believed to be the outcome. Much of his testimony was contradictory and of him trying to sound smarter than he was.
After the testimony, we heard the closing statements. Twice from the prosecutor and once from the defense. And each time the prosecutor made her argument stronger. The defense attorney, a very able public defender, just stuck to the story.
We received the jury instructions and then proceeded to the jury deliberation room.
At some point, I had mentioned that on my last trial, I was the jury foreman. And someone remembered and they all asked if I would want to be foreman for this trial and I agreed.
The first thing that we did was take a vote. And it seemed ominous to me. Seven of us said guilty. Five said not guilty. So there were going to be deliberations. And there should have been. And FTR, we were a helluva lot more serious than the O. J. Simpson jury that took a whole four hours of deliberation. In fact it did take us about seven hours of deliberation. And between a couple of us, including my self, four of the original jurors that voted not guilty changed to guilty. But there was one woman, one woman that held the defendant's fate. And he should be damn thankful to her. The problem for that juror is one of the two elements the prosecutor had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. And the one that the woman juror was having problems with was intent. Because there was nothing stolen from the home, it made her not sure he intended to take any items from the said home. However, if he had even taken a bite of food and or a swig of wine, that would be enough to prove intent. But this juror just could not come around. Even after two different read backs and her  conceding some points that we agreed to, she still could not come around. There was nothing more we could talk about. We took one more vote and it was 10-2 for a guilty verdict. But in a criminal case, the jury must be unanimous for conviction. And we were not. And we would not be.
So I called the bailiff and we eventually went back to the courtroom and were questioned by the judge. After a couple of private consults with the attorneys, the judge declared a mistrial.
I have to admit, I was disappointed and just a wee bit bitter. I thoroughly believe that had the police not acted quickly, the defendant would have ate the food, have some drink and would have taken whatever he could fit in his pocket. But we all had to agree. And we could not.
A couple of things that made me realize it was not a total waste of time.
First, the defendant had been in jail since he was arrested in late March. How do we know? A couple of jurors made mention that while he was wearing a nice dress shirt, he had jail-issued pants and jail slippers. So he either was not given bail or the amount was more than his parents wanted to pay. Or they wanted to teach him a lesson.
Second, even though he probably will not be recharged and may already be out on the streets, he spent time in jail. More than likely, had we found him guilty, he probably would have been credited for time served. Because of state prison overcrowding, many cases like this a convicted burglar serves time in a county jail. And Los Angeles County jail is like a state prison with constant overcrowding.
My initial reaction of dismay and bitterness was wrong. It was wrong because the system did work.
The defendant had a speedy and fair trial. A jury of his peers, us, looked at all of the evidence seriously and studiously. We talked, talked and talked. And because, rightfully, in a criminal case the bar is that all jurors must agree to convict or not convict. If a juror can not agree as was the case in this trial, we had no choice. The judge realized we were serious and deliberative and declared a mistrial.
Throughout this post, I have referred to it as jury duty. Yet I realize that it is in fact jury service. We should not look at it as a duty but that we are serving our fellow citizens. Yes, it is about a week of our time that we could be working or doing whatever, but do we really want to not be a part of the process? Do we really want to not participate in a compact of what it means to be a citizen of the United States? I do not and if one really thinks about it, they would not want to give up that right. They would not want to have a bunch of so-called professional jurors that have been proposed many times in American history.
It is a joy of citizenship to be asked to participate in jury service, even when it does not turn out the way one thinks that it should.
Oh, but once, just once, I would like to be assigned to my local courthouse about four blocks from home!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Ann Coulter, You Ain't A Christian Theologian

Once again I find myself at odds with someone that I know, like and respect and that is Sweet Ann Coulter.
No, I am not being sarcastic when I refer to her as Sweet Ann.
But the latest column from Miss Coulter regarding the doctor and his nurse that contracted Ebola in Liberia in Africa and the decision to bring them back to the United States for treatment was not over the top. It was a total lack of knowledge and understanding of Christian mission and what that means.
Of course those on the left and or Christian modernists already despise Miss Coulter and their reaction is not worth mentioning here.
So I will give you two reactions from respected evangelicals. The two that I would like to share the comments of are former Bush administration official Pete Wehner and the current president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Albert Mohler. I choose these two because one, Mr. Wehner, has been involved in politics. The other, Dr. Mohler, has been involved in Christian theology. Both would seem to be allied with Miss Coulter in many ways. But this time, they, to be blunt, give her a new one.
First, the point of Miss Coulter's column seems to be that Dr. Kent Brantly and his nurse, Nancy Writebol were nothing but Christian narcissists that were asking for it. And that they would have been better off either trying to save souls in Hollywood or New York City. And to buck up her point, she even cites the Holy Bible, the Old Testament passage from Deuteronomy 15:11:

For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.

Oh, she was good enough to also quote the Holy Gospel of Matthew 28:19:

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

But I don't think she really cares about ALL the nations. Just the United States really. I mean, we need all of the saving. The rest of the world, eh not so much.
Dr. Brantly and Mrs. Writebol are Christian missionaries with Franklin Graham's Samaritan Purse. So, I guess according to Dr. Coulter, in reality, the Rev. Franklin Graham is a Christian narcissist for he believes in that quaint passage in Matthew. The Rev. Franklin Graham, and by extension his father, the Rev. Dr. Billy Graham, are not good, American Christians  because they also wanted to save the world for Christ.
Before I continue my own thoughts, let me share the response of Mr. Wehner. It is a classic because it calls Miss. Coulter out for being especially cruel to beat up Dr. Brantly and Mrs. Writebol when they are down. And she is. He rightfully mocks Miss. Coulter and her strange way that the two should really be sharing Christ. That she was suggesting, no telling the two that they should have focused on power broker types in Los Angeles/Hollywood or New York City. According to Ann:

If Dr. Brantly had practiced at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles and turned one single Hollywood power-broker to Christ, he would have done more good for the entire world than anything he could accomplish in a century spent in Liberia.

Or this:

If he had provided health care for the uninsured editors, writers, videographers and pundits in Gotham and managed to open one set of eyes, he would have done more good than marinating himself in medieval diseases of the Third World.

Of course there is not one shred of knowable evidence that any of the above might have happened and thus it is total speculation on her part. Which is what is wrong. As Mr. Wehner pointed out, Miss Coulter is divining the heart and mind of Dr. Brantly and Mrs Writebol. Something that we can not nor should ever do. And Mr. Wehner and all other critics of the column point out that there are millions of committed Christians spreading the Gopsel of Christ right here in the United States of America. To places like Zavala county, another place Miss Coulter thought the good doc should have used his God-given talents instead of Africa and specifically Liberia. There is an outreach center right here in El Monte, California that my particular church has been, in my estimation, spreading the Gospel of helping thy neighbor. And yes, we have sent a missionary to Mongolia of all places to teach children and yes, spread the Gopsel of Christ.
So let's examine what Dr. Mohler had to say about Miss Coulter and her descent to Crazyland.
As Dr. Mohler pointed out, Miss Coulter said that the kind of missionary work Dr. Brantly and Mrs. Writebol did would get a lot of praise from people like New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof. Here is what Miss Coulter wrote:

Evangelize in Liberia, and the Times' Nicholas Kristof will be totally impressed.

It appears that he was. Yes, Mr. Kristoff did indeed heap praise on Dr. Brantly and Mrs. Writebol. To me in this case, so what? Where Dr. Mohler equates both Miss Coulter and Mr. Kristof is that both are off the mark. Dr. Mohler:

Kristof argues that we should be very appreciative of these two American missionary doctors and others from the western world who are fighting this contagion in Africa because if the disease is not stopped there, it will indeed come here. That is an argument that is certainly superior to the argument of Ann Coulter, but it is also an argument that is far short of the Christian worldview. These two American missionary doctors did not go merely as humanitarians. They did not just join some kind of merely humanitarian effort. They were sent by American Christian missionary organizations. Their concern was not just the bodily health of those they would serve through medicine, but the spiritual condition and indeed the spiritual fate of those they would meet as they went to West Africa.

I italicized the important point of Dr. Mohler. That the two are committed Christians that were sent to do what they did by Christian missionary groups. That they are caring not just for the immediate needs of the people but their spiritual needs as well. They are not just humanitarians as Mr. Kristof wants folks to believe.
Here is what I think about this.
One, if Miss Coulter had written about whether or not it was a good idea to bring two people back with a disease that has no cure and the merits on that, I think that would make a good potential column.
But Miss Coulter went for the jugular and assaulted the very nature of the work the doctor and nurse was doing. She was saying that the place that needs the most missionary work is their home nation, the United States. She misrepresents the very essence of the ministry of the church and the Great Commission that Jesus Christ laid out for all who follow him to do. Again that is to go to ALL the nations to spread the Gospel. Not just one nation and not just the United States.
The fact of it is that Ann Coulter, you ain't a Christian theologian.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

When Your Computer Is Attacked By Viruses . . .It sucks

I am finally back after a month of problems beyond belief with my home PC.
Most important I found a reliable computer repair guy locally and that is why I am finally able to get back to blogging.
As I found out today, my computer was attacked many times by a slew of Trojan viruses. It was about 20 different ones over the course of the last month. Needless to say, I barely know how to turn a computer on let alone know the ins and outs of the thing.
No matter.
It is fixed and I am ever so greatful.
I do have a lot to say so there really will be a lot of posts in the coming days.