I was sitting in the jury deliberation room with my fellow jurors when the judge's assistant approached and said this to me. We had all been in sequestration for the past two hours and had no idea what was going on. The previous afternoon we had finished a verdict that answered over fifty questions and as the foreperson, I had signed it and handed it over to the court.
That morning, we arrived thinking we would read the verdict. But the judge's order for us to go to the deliberation room and sit there changed those plans.
As I wandered down the hallway with the judge's assistant en route to the chambers, I realized that I had no frame of reference to work with. I had a law degree, but my studies never brought up the topic of the rights a juror has in speaking to the judge. I also did not know what the judge wanted to talk about, or what, if anything, I had been accused of.
In short, I was forced to play a game without knowing the rules.
I decided to adopt a cooperative tone with the judge and politely answer his questions. It was later that I figured out that the judge, responding to pressure from some very unhappy and powerful defendants, decided up front that I had withheld a bias at voir dire. His questions, and the whole conversation in camera, were simply a way to scapegoat me instead of objectively determining whether to grant the defendants' request to remove me from the jury.
Almost four years after this debacle, in which the judge not only removed me but also made false statements about me to the other jurors and the media, I have asked myself what I should have said upon seeing the judge.
The answer finally came to me in a dream last night: "What is the purpose of this hearing?"
If I had asked the judge up front why he called me in, he would have been put on the defensive. He would have to give an answer as the attorneys, the assistant and the transcriber would have been waiting for one, having acknowledged that the question was reasonable.
And most of all, I could determine from his response whether it was even wise to participate.
For example, if he had said, "I just need to ask a few questions," I could have replied that "I need the assistance of counsel."
If he had said, "It has come to my attention that you have a web site," I could have replied "Who told you this?"
If he had said, "I need to know if you have ever written about the defendants," I could have replied "I need to read whatever you have read that caused you to call me here."
If there are no rules to guide you, the best thing to do is to make up your own. Or put another way, if you really have no rights, then you have no responsibilities to cooperate with a crooked judge, either.
To read more about this particular case, including the transcript of the discussion in the chambers, click here.
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