Although I've been called to appear for jury duty quite a few times, except for a four-month stint serving on a grand jury, I've never been selected for the real thing. Never been allowed the opportunity to render verdicts, throw the book at someone, that sort of thing. Apparently, the gods that be had not deemed me worthy.
That all changed on Thursday. Even though it was supposedly a light day on the docket. Even though I got lost in Fall River and showed up half an hour late. Even though all I really wanted to do was sit there for a few hours and read 'A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.'
Despite all that, I was somehow selected as juror number three. Which meant that I was one of the first ones called up for the only case ready to be heard that day. And somehow, through all the musical chairs that take place during jury selection, I managed to stay put.
Personally, I think it was because I was wearing a suit. I hadn't put it on as a show of respect for the court system, however. I had a dinner to go to that night, and figured there was a good chance I might be going there straight from court. So, while everyone else was wearing jeans or shorts, I was looking like one of the attorneys.
So, there I am, finally having my day in court. And on such a momentous occasion, do I get to render a verdict on the infamous Lindbergh kidnapping? Something comparable to the O.J. Simpson verdict? Maybe a simple little case of armed robbery? No, no. What do I get to weigh in on?
An incorrectly installed fence.
That's the frickin case I get! A single woman with a granddaughter on the way who wanted to have a fence installed in her backyard, because she doesn't like the next door neighbor's backyard, which has a compost heap on it. So, she hires a guy to build a fence for her.
The whole lawsuit boiled down to whether the lady asked the fence builder to make the fence level at the top or level with the ground. She claims she absolutely, unequivocally, without a shadow of a doubt told him to make it level with the ground, while he claimed she never said that. As a result, because she had a lawn that slopes, she ended up with a fence that small ponies could gallop underneath, in parts.
Pretty simple case, and you wonder why it couldn't have simply been worked out by the two of them just talking like human beings and working something out. Of course, this is America, and nothing can be THAT simple.
It SHOULD be as simple as the fence guy simply going to her and saying, look I screwed up, let me fix the fence so that it's what you want. Because clearly he did screw up--if he had listened to her for just five seconds he would have realized that her daughter has a baby on the way, so of course she doesn't want a fence that the baby could crawl easily under in a few years.
He could have resolved this by buying a few additional posts and then taking an afternoon out of his busy fence-building to fix the problem. Instead, he does as little as possible to try and get her out of his hair (basically, ignores her calls, then buys $20 of loam and tries to cover up the holes when he realizes that's not going to work). She, in turn, gets an attorney and files a lawsuit so she can get her whole fence replaced. Even though most of the fence is perfectly fine.
But ah, the wonder of the law! To hear the two attorneys spar for two days, you'd think we actually were at the O.J. trial. There were props, huge blow-up exhibits showing the space between the fence, dozens of photos depicting the fence at various points over the course of the past two years...it was a pop song inflated to operatic proportions.
In the end, we found the fence guy guilty of a contract breech and awarded the plaintiff $750. (She had been looking for around $4,000.)
It just seems to me an awful lot for something that could have reasonably been worked out two years ago, without costing everyone (including the tax payer) so much time and effort. And, it would have given me a more dramatic case. I'm all about the dramatic cases, don't you know.
It was an interesting experience, don't get me wrong. However, the practical Yankee in me likes to get my money's worth. This seemed more something that should end up on Judge Judy, rather than a two-day court trial.
And, I think I made a difference! The foreman, when we went to deliberate, was clearly on the side of the contractor. He didn't think he did anything wrong at all, that fences that small horses can gallop under are perfectly normal, and what was the lady complaining about, anyway? I saw it the opposite way, and kept arguing with him. At the first vote, the result was 5-2 in favor of finding him at fault. The foreman had only convinced one other person.
We needed one other person to change their vote. I knew the foreman wouldn't listen to me, but fortunately, a guy at the other end of the table, much more friendly than I typically am, made a good point that the foreman could accept. He pointed out that there was an implied oral agreement, since the fence guy had seen the type of fence she had been looking at to begin with. The foreman then changed his vote, as did the other person. And that was that.
I'm not sure the plaintiff was happy with our decision, since we only awarded her $750. Certainly her attorney didn't look thrilled.
That's life, though, in the big city. No bother being on the fence about that one. Especially when you bother the court with silly cases.