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We the Jury

In 45 years in the news business, I've never encountered a whine as loud and tedious as Donna Lawder's essay on serving on a Grant County jury ("Runaway Jury," May). Poor Ms. Lawder, faced with monthly — not daily, hourly or constant — deadlines, and under the additional pressure of having to prepare for a Hawaiian holiday, had to drop everything and be a juror for a day. Her distress mounted when the trial lasted until 6:30 p.m. The longest trial I ever covered lasted three months, and the jurors were sequestered — they didn't see their families or friends for the duration. And in the course of deliberation, Ms. Lawder writes, she was threatened by another juror. If this was the case she should have reported it to a bailiff immediately.

Following her ordeal, Ms. Lawder interviewed Judge Quintero and discovered that had she only talked to him, he would have let her off the hook. She writes that she did try to talk to him, but it wasn't allowed. Evidently she was so bored during voir dire that she didn't hear the judge invite any reluctant juror to explain his or her situation to him privately. That would not only have given her ample time to prepare for her holiday, but saved her the embarrassment of writing this thing.

Being inconvenienced by jury duty is one of the little prices good citizens are expected to pay to live in this country. Having it hang over our heads for three months is the price we pay for living in a relatively backward and impoverished state. In either case, the inconvenience falls into insignificance in light of the men dying every day at their country's behest.

Jack Warner
Silver City


(Reserve deputy sheriff with the Grant County court security unit and a bailiff for the trial in which Ms. Lawder was a juror. Retired in 2001 after 32 years with United Press International and 13 with the Atlanta Constitution.)

Donna Lawder replies: As the article repeatedly made clear, jury duty "hangs over our heads" in this judicial district for six months — not three — during which I had to repeatedly reschedule interviews and otherwise rearrange life at the last minute. And I was not "bored" during voir dire — as I stated in the article, I spoke up about my pending travel and Judge Quintero did not excuse me, saying the trial was for only one day. If New Mexico followed other states in a "one day or one trial" policy, I would have gladly served my one trial and then been able to get on with my life and my work. Since Mr. Warner has never been self-employed, it's no doubt hard for him to understand the time and economic pressures cited in the article. If he'd ever been called for jury duty in Atlanta, his employer would have found someone to fill in for him — and paid Mr. Warner as well. A few counties in Georgia do require jurors to serve for one week, the most lengthy time of service in the state. Most of the state, including Fulton County in which Atlanta is located, follows the "one day or one trial" rule.

 


Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I roamed the halls of a high school in a large Midwestern city, Mr. O'Keeffe was the history and government teacher to be feared. Primarily he expected his students to learn, and worse, he expected them to apply the lessons to life. Every year his students were sent to observe activities at the criminal courts and the federal courts, and a well-written report was required.

I must have submitted the report because someone eventually gave me a high school diploma. What do I remember now? There was that man in the criminal court who was charged with rape, but seemingly couldn't understand the concepts of pleading guilty or not guilty. In the federal court, a coterie of attorneys argued in an arcane language then unknown to me, apparently discussing the government and IBM. And when that court recessed for lunch, I rode down in the elevator with some of those same attorneys, who apparently were headed for a communal meal.

I always wanted to be called for jury duty, but that didn't happen until 2000, when I was summoned to the District Court in Las Cruces. I knew weeks in advance what days I might have to report, and the jury clerks were always helpful in accommodating jurors' schedules. During that four-month term, I was called into court six times and served on three juries (one conviction, one acquittal, one hung jury). I was called to jury duty again in 2006, reported eight times, served on no juries.

So what did I learn? That trial attorneys seem to be in love with the sounds of their voices. That a disparate group of people can listen to the same arguments and evidence, cut through the baloney and most often, come to the same conclusion. That it is downright creepy to sit within feet of parents who are accused of killing their infant child. That the courts are clogged with DWI cases. And mostly, that jury duty is so named because those of us who are called to serve have a duty to perform.

Yes, jury duty can and does interfere with plans, schedules and routines. And yes, as a self-employed person, I know that the budget can take a hit. (But it is also true that in many of those locales where jury duty is a one day thing, payment to jurors often falls way below the minimum hourly wage that is paid in New Mexico.)

Were I on trial, or if someone on trial had committed a crime against me or mine, the last thing I would want is a jury composed of people who had nothing better to do. What I want are active, informed, thoughtful, insightful, dedicated individuals who understand both the privileges and duties of citizenship.

Mr. O'Keeffe would be proud.

Natalie A. McNamee
Organ, NM

 


 

I read the memoir "Runaway Jury" in your May edition with mixed feelings. On the one hand, as a dyed-in-the-wool contrarian, I was gratified at the exposure of another governmental wasteful approach to a necessary service: jury duty.

On the other, I felt bad for Judge Quintero, a hugely modern man, getting singled out by the juror/witness as the human face and scapegoat of her criticism.

The judge cannot defend himself, for ethical and practical reasons. I can, and do.

The article's valid complaints about the jury system's imperfections and occasional insults aside, its focus on Henry Quintero is misplaced.

Our criminal justice system — judges, prosecutors, public defenders, law enforcement and probation officers and others — grossly underfunded, deals with the waste product of society. Each person doing so deserves more respect than what little the jury article shows Henry Quintero.

I hope that the article's author won't content herself as to her frustration by picking out one judge to throw a rock at but will do something useful to improve the system.

Pete Keys
Attorney at Law
Silver City

Author Donna Lawder replies: No disrespect was intended toward Judge Quintero, who kindly made time in his busy schedule to be interviewed. If any such tone crept in, it was not meant for His Honor, but rather was a lingering shadow of the disrespect that the criminal-justice system Mr. Keys describes shows towards the "active, informed, thoughtful, insightful, dedicated individuals who understand both the privileges and duties of citizenship" that Ms. McNamee, in the previous letter, so eloquently desires. The current jury system allows a huge percentage of those who are summoned to simply ignore their duty, while penalizing the civic-minded who do show up. One hopes that the article's questions will inspire Judge Quintero and his fellow judges to consider reforms that will make more likely the sort of juries we'd all wish for.

 


 

Just wanted to thank you for publishing Donna Lawder's excellent story on jury duty. Under the circumstances, it was remarkably well balanced. Clearly she resisted the temptation to totally vent her frustration. (I admire strengths I lack.)

One thing popped out at me: Since the problem of financial hardship is not very important to the judge (as quoted in the article), then I have to assume he would be happy to work for minimum wage himself. What a wonderful human being! This would allow the remainder of his salary to help out the citizens on jury duty who didn't volunteer, after all. If the system is so important that sacrifices must be made, surely those sacrifices should start with our leaders — the ones who determine what the sacrifices should be. Let him set an example. Of course, he'd get paid only for the hours actually in court, and we could keep that below 40 hours a week and save paying for benefits. That would be a fine example. Perhaps other judges would follow suit and we could cut the cost of our court system or even hire more judges!

Ed Teja
Silver City

 


 

BRAVO, Donna Clayton Lawder! So very refreshing to see political correctness trumped by the truth. Seldom in our risk-averse society does a journalist transcend the bondage of cultural conditioning and explore the tumultuous terrain of reality.

And you have done just that, Donna, with "Runaway Jury."

Your piece on our beleaguered injustice system was well crafted, enlightening and most important, honest. Congratulations for surviving the ordeal and living to write about it.

Thanks much for your competence, your courage and your commitment to "telling it like it is." We all can learn valuable lessons from your experience and example.

Keith Fisher
Silver City


 

Listening to the River

Regarding Larry Lightner's column ("Thirsty for Answers," May): Often I think water, in the form of the river, if given the chance speaks for itself. It lets us know what we often forget, that all life needs a healthy turbulence to survive, which for a river includes a cared for and natural floodplain. Diversion diminishes this possibility for rivers in the same subtle ways we become less and less in touch with our own instincts as human beings when we divert our natural energies into artificial channels and containers. It means the river, like people's lives, has a flow. Beyond such details as whether or not it is New Mexico's water or Arizona's, environmentalists are concerned with this sense of a healthy river and a healthy us.

My father would say it is the terms of our thinking, and if we use a language word like "resources" without seeing the depth of what the language word holds in its root and meaning, to bring that depth up into the light, then we simply skim off the top of the word, by defining it as only a plastic something that we use.

By treating language this way, we are in danger of diverting meaning, and like the river's need for its own abundant life force, the spirit of that which gives it life, the words also must be restored to be perceived as a part of a larger mystery. We are making something too simple, defining the resource and river in a language emptied of its rich and dimensional purposes.

The river ecology report that was vetoed by the governor was not recognizing the whole complete picture regarding the life of the Gila, and efforts to stop it were not a stall job but rather an attempt to consider a more complete view of what is in front of us. Education is about offering a larger picture rather than accumulating bits and pieces that lean in just one direction or point of view.

Gila Conservation Coalition acted as an agent for more understanding rather than be shortsighted, and much work has gone into their efforts. I am sure they can speak for themselves and swap research facts, but I am speaking more to the river and what it means in our lives and what the river needs, and not just what we can use it for.

The terms of our thinking are often about use, and short-lived use at that, and quite possibly unnecessary use, and most of what is going on is about water and river as a salable item, rather then what the Gila River needs to survive.

Bill Evans Lake is a topic of its own, but I would not want a bunch of artificial lakes to replace what the river can live out if cared for and left alone. I am a river rat and I like a place where there is just river, and not more use. I want the river to be there for itself and not for gain. It is a shame that often the "alternative" (which is often just another point of view that is labeled as alternative) perspectives have to validate themselves in the context of "this is a thing to barter about" mentality, so that we usually can't hear from the land or the river or the voiceless critters even when they are speaking, and need our help.

Fundamentally, it is selfish and arrogant to place our needs over nature, often needs that often have more to do with excess than intelligent use. If we have "dominion over nature" then it means we do not own nature at the expense of itself but instead we care for the larger community that is our life force and context, and not simply a resource.

The root for nature is "gen," which among its other derivatives — such as "generate" — gives us the word "kind and kin." We may need to see the river and ourselves in a kinship continuum to be able to hear the river's song rather than the tune we may think we are carrying for the Gila in the future ahead.

Nanda Currant
Silver City

 

Fans Near and Far

The Desert Exposure just keeps getting better! I read the May issue cover to cover. Some things of particular interest to me were the letters in support of Larry Lightner, Henry Lightcap's indignation over talking urinal cakes, Jerry Eagan's continuing stories about Apacheria, and your (the editor's) political commentary. Regarding the last topic, if you have time you may want to read Charles Krauthammer's column on the firing of the US Attorneys jjewishworldreview.com/cols/krauthammer032307.php3

Jeff Ross
Via e-mail

We are working at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, and really look forward to reading the Desert Exposure online each month. You do an incredible job with this publication. THANKS!

Keep up the GREAT work; the Desert Exposure is something we look forward to down on "the ice" when 24/7 of darkness sets in — a little slice of hometown news and some interesting articles, of course.

Barbara and Bob Teuscher
McMurdo Station, Antarctica

 

And Finally...

I thought the spaceport ("Failure to Launch," April) was a good idea — until I learned they were going to bring those millionaires and billionaires back down!

Harley Shaw
Hillsboro

 

Let us hear from you! Write Desert Exposure Letters, PO Box 191, Silver City, NM 88062, email letters@desertexposure.com or fax 534-4134. Letters are subject to editing for style and length. Deadline for the next issue is the 18th of the month.

 

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