Note: My own personal 5 year Statute of Limitations is now up for this one, and I feel I can finally tell this sordid tale from 2008......
I’m back from Jury Duty. A two week case, and it just slipped right by, like a Century. Now I don’t have to be on a jury for two years. But since it was a two-week case, I think I should be exempt for four years. Two years for every week spent sitting in a sweatbath wearing a monkey suit and listening to asshats seems reasonable.
Sadly “reasonable” was a term not heard during this trial.
Because folks are often at their most passionate and incoherent when one of their parents is dying. They’ll do anything to prolong the inevitable end, and then when the passing does occur, they’ll strike out at anything and anyone handy to somehow get some sort of ‘revenge’. And when the mourning offspring is an A-type lawyer, well, you get dumb, stupid, lame, useless, stupid, dumb, lawsuits like this one.
The statute involved was Elder Neglect. Mister Asshat lawyer spent two-and-a-half years (and something on the order of half-a-million dollars of his own money) stitching together the most far-flung and trivial moments in his Mother’s care to somehow prove that his mother was recklessly neglected during her stay in the ICU and Med-Surg floors of our local hospital.
Think about that. Neglect, in a hospital? Have you ever tried to get any sleep in a hospital? It’s nigh-on impossible because every 15 minutes someone barges in with a machine on wheels, prods you in some manner, and then wheels out after advising you to "get some rest". These are the well meaning folks who will wake you up to give you a sleeping pill.
Neglect? Hardly. Stalking would be a closer term. I’m sure many patients would gladly file a restraining order against their nurses in order to get some rest. (Which is really what a discharge is. They stabilize you, but you actually heal at home, where you can finally relax.)
Here’s a definition of the various types of neglect and abuse from a Lawyer’s website.
As you can see, the site for these crimes is a nursing home. Not a hospital. The only 'neglect' you will find at a hospital is that they neglect to put any taste into the food.
So Mr. Asshat lawyer never had a chance here. And We the Jury let him know it, in no uncertain terms. And it didn't do a damn bit of good.
After 9 days of testimony we heard the closing arguments on the morning on day 10 and the trial was complete. All the principals took off for the rest of the day.
Start the clock on us jurors.
First the Judge gave us our instructions. To prove Neglect was a 7-step sequential process. We had to vote on each of these items in order, and if any step did not pass, then the case failed.
Then we were taken to the deliberation chamber and told what we should expect for lunch in a few hours and what dinner arrangements could be made for us.
All 12 of us sat around a large, round table and waited for the first person to break the silence. That poor sap was instantly elected our foreman.
Forewoman, actually. She reviewed the 7 steps to us, got out a piece of paper and called for a vote:
- Step 1: Was Asshat Lawyers mom named so and so?
Seriously? That's a question? Um, YES.
- Step #2: Does Dominican Hospital exist at this address?
Gee, I'm not sure. It might've broken free of gravity overnight and is currently in orbit. But we'll take a chance on this one. All hands raise: Yes.
- Step #3: Was Asshat Lawyer Mom under the care of this hospital?
Well, that's ALL we've been hearing about for 9 forty-four hour days, so yeah, I think we can pull together a consensus on this one: Yepper.
- #4 was the crust of the biscuit: Did Asshat Lawyer Mom suffer from Neglect while under the care of the Catholics?
We all glanced at each other, took a breath, and 10 of us raised our hands. Two of us did not. But it turns out those two weren't really paying attention, so as soon as our forewoman re-read the definition of Neglect to them they also got on board.
And that was it. No step 5, let alone 6 and 7. Done. Two week trial and we officially 'deliberated' for a grand total of 45 minutes. The bare minimum.
Our forewoman went to fetch the bailiff, who thought we needed more instruction or something. "Seriously? You're done already? But everyone is long gone...."
He went off to make a bunch of phone calls and try to gather everyone back to the courtroom; a process that took almost two hours to accomplish.
Meanwhile, back in the juror room, it was ties loosened and feet up on the table. Our job was done and we could now, for the first time, talk to each other. Its one of the oddities of Jurisprudence that you spend days (or weeks in this case) sweating alongside 11 other people that you are not allowed to converse with. A nod and a "good morning" and that was it. During breaks we all went to separate areas and kept our heads down. (I did about 1,000 crossword puzzles.)
But now it was a party in the juror room. We discussed which lawyer had the best neckties. We played with the exhibits that had been left on the table (Impacted colon plush toy! Haha!). I commented how ironic it was that me, a Wiccan, was helping to defend Dominican Hospital, and by extension, the Catholic Church.
And we ALL groused about how stupid this stupid whole stupid case stupid had stupid been.
But after 90 minutes of giggles and impersonations, I felt that we had one more duty to do. I called everyone back to the round table and explained that yes, this was a dumb doo-doo of a trial, but somebody DID die here (but not as a result of Neglect), and really hasn't been allowed to Rest in Peace, because of this stupidstupidstupid trial. That sobered everyone up.
So we all held hands around the table, I said a prayer, and we all had a good, long moment of silence for the poor woman who we now knew sooooo much about, inside and out.
It was as if the final weight got lifted from our shoulders. Now Mrs. Asshat Lawyer Mom was free, and so were we. Cue the raucous laughter again. We could hear the lawyers returning to the courtroom so we tried to stifle our giddiness. Ties were tightened, dresses were smoothed.
Two and a half hours after the trial ended we were escorted back to our box and the Forewoman and Judge had that extraordinarily formal conversation that closes each and every trial.
- Step 1: After much screaming and yelling the jury decided that the Mom's name was indeed what her name was.
- Step 2: We were pretty sure Dominican Hospital hadn't been stolen by ninjas in the night and reassembled across town by morning.
- Step 3: Mrs. Asshat Lawyer Mom was indeed under the care of the Doctors, Surgeons, Orderlies, Techs, Nurses, Clerks, Administrators and Volunteers of that hospital.
- Step 4: No, we could not take seriously for a moment the notion that a vast conspiracy was underway from all of these caregivers to deny this one patient the care she needed.
Boom. Here's your asshat, and there's the door. The room quickly cleared. The Judge thanked us all for our service and remarked that it was nice to hear laughter from the jurors room as everyone gathered out in the courtroom. That remark got me thinking.
Then we were dismissed with a reminder that we were now allowed to discuss (or not discuss) this case with anyone we wished.
Outside the courtroom I found Mr. Asshat Lawyer and his lawyer sitting side by side on a bench, in grim discussion.
They were both delighted to talk to me, however. The Lawyers lawyer wanted to know if his expert witnesses were any good (they weren't), and how close the vote was (as far from close as you can get). I then addressed Mr. Asshat.
What I wanted to impress upon him was that if he heard us laughing in the juror room, it was not with any disrespect to his Mother. He looked surprised at that, but then he saw my reasoning and he nodded gratefully. I then informed him that just before they arrived we jurors had said a prayer and had a moment of silence for the deceased. He nodded again, mumbled a thank you, and shook my hand limply.
I could see from the look in his eyes that he was a million miles away, and a shudder ran through me as I realized that he was already plotting his Appeal of our no-brainer of a decision.
Nothing had been resolved in this case, and for Mr. Asshat lawyer, nothing ever would be - until his Mother somehow magically reappeared, alive and well.
I walked away, shaking my head.
Because even in Post-Everything Western society, people die. And the ratio is pretty much one-death-per-person. But in our modern world of wonders we have yet to conquer death – and so we deny it. We are unprepared emotionally when it inevitably happens.
Death offends us. And even more incredibly, death surprises us. And when we are surprised, we React. Irrationally.
P.S. The next week I got a letter from my health insurance saying that my premiums are going up. Coincidence? Yes. Related? Also yes.
(pic from DCmessageboards.com)