Friday, November 13, 2009

Chief Judge Bloomquist holding Todd Gilly in Contempt of Court Sparks Debate on Jury Duty

This morning, on the way to taking the kids to school, I was listening to the Chris Baker show. Chris Baker was discussing the prospect of establishing a professional jury pool. The reason for the discussion materialized from events that took place yesterday in a Kanabec County courtroom. During jury selection Kanabec County Chief Judge Timothy Bloomquist asked the jury pool if any had reason that may disqualify them from partaking in the jury trial. Prospective juror Todd Gilly answered the inquiry by Chief Judge Bloomquist by saying, "I could see myself getting awfully frustrated having to take more time off than …a day. I don't get paid when I'm not working. I could see myself just going with the flow to get it over with to get back to work" (Star Tribune, 11/13/09).

That statement did not go unnoticed by Chief Judge Bloomquist. Chief Judge Bloomquist retorted, "To be frank with you, Mr. Gilly, apparently you thought that I was just going to sit here and do nothing while you told us all that you intended to disregard about the law and the facts and the rights of both the State and the Defendant because it was inconvenient for you to be here. I don't intend to disregard that" (Start Tribune, 11/13/09). Chief Judge Bloomquist then sentenced Todd Gilly to spend a day in jail for being in contempt of court. The sentence actually ended up costing Gilly two days of work. Had Gilly not said what he said, he would have only been on jury duty for one day as the trial concluded the same day it started.

Jury duty is a civic responsibility that is not to be taking lightly. Chief Justice John Jay sums it up well when he said that "juries are the best judges of the facts" during the 1794 Supreme Court jury trial State of Georgia vs. Brailsford. Juries have been granted great power by the United States Constitution. A jury has final veto power over the laws that Congress pass and the President signs by interpreting the facts of the case as they apply to the law in question. So, to shirk ones civic obligation of jury duty or to make light of it is an egregious dereliction of civic responsibility. Not every one of us is going to enlist in the military to defend our freedoms and liberties afforded us under the United State Constitution. That being said, a way that many of us are capable of performing civic duty is through being a juror.

The depth of power the juror has is great. Constitutional Rights Network sums up the power a juror have (

    "If you feel the statute involved in any criminal case being tried before you is unfair, or that it infringes upon the defendant's God-given inalienable or Constitutional rights, you can affirm that the offending statute is really no law at all and, that the violation of it is no crime; for no man is bound to obey an unjust command. In other words, if the defendant has disobeyed some manmade criminal statute, and the statute is unjust, the defendant has in substance, committed no crime. Jurors, having ruled then on the justice of the law involved and finding it opposed in whole or in part to their own natural concept of what is basically right, are bound to hold -for the acquittal of said defendant."

Right now the United States is experiencing double digit unemployment and a scarcity of jobs and for someone, like Mr. Gilly, to sit on a jury makes it tough to pay the bills. Understandably, one can see why Mr. Gilly said what he said but if every judge dismissed jurors because of the "inconvenience" that jury pay brings then our system would be filled with the unemployed and retired. As I stated earlier, the conversation on the Chris Baker show around the prospect of having a "professional jury pool" prompts me to write on the topic.

While I can see the benefits of a "professional jury pool", a major pitfall takes place. The assumption is that the "professional jury pool" will be a government employee. Being a government appointment offers the possibility of becoming a political hot potato. Should a "professional jury pool" be established? Is jury duty really a civic duty that we ought to participate in? What excuses are viable for being relieved of jury duty?