Verdicts

I saw it with my own eyes, and I remember it today. But now I'm not sure about the connection. Plus, 7 other things worth your time.

My first real legal job, a year out of law school, was with the U.S. Department of Justice. I was a trial attorney in the civil section of the tax division.

My cases were all over the Pacific Northwest, but I was based in Washington, DC, part of a team reporting to a very experienced lawyer who had been doing this kind of work forever.

By “forever,” I mean that when he told us the story of his first week on the job, it ended with the Attorney General inviting him and all the other new attorneys to have a casual beer in his office.

The attorney general at the time? Robert Kennedy.

I digress. I was green. About six months into the job, my boss sent me to the Justice Department training center in South Carolina for a two-week course on how to try a civil case.

I already had a few simple trials under my belt by then, but I had heard good things about this course. The culmination was a a mock trial of a civil lawsuit in front of a U.S. District Judge, who had volunteered for the minor junket (sorry, I mean “volunteered for the chance to serve.”)

In my case, if I recall, I was representing a woman who was suing the government after her car had been rear-ended on the George Washington Parkway in Virginia by a U.S. Park Police patrol unit (the officer was a federal employee).

I thought I did a good job. It went to the mock jury, comprised of students from local high schools. Since this was all a learning experience for us, we got to watch the jury deliberations in real time, over closed circuit TV.

The students seemed to forget about the camera after a few minutes, and they took it all seriously. One young woman emerged quickly as a leader, and she was elected the foreperson.

Someone suggested they take a quick vote before deliberating, and it was 11 to 1 in my mock client’s favor. I needed a 12 to 0 decision to avoid a mistrial, but I felt like I was golden.

It wasn’t like that 1 “no” vote was going to sway all 11 of the others to change their minds, right?

Reader, you can imagine what happened next. It all fell apart.

The one opposing vote was the foreperson’s, and I sat there, watching—aghast, amazed, and helpless, alongside the federal judge and my new attorney colleagues — as it all unfolded.

One by one, she picked apart the arguments I had made during the mock trial, and brought her fellow jurors around.

First it was 11 to 1.

Then 10 to 2.

Then 7 to 5.

Then 5 to 7.

Finally, the entire thing had flipped, and it was 1 to 11.

Then the holdout succumbed to the inevitable. I lost the case.


I’m going to pick up briefly on my “watching the jurors” story in the 7 other things section below. But first, I was glad to see so many people liked the Chick Parsons feature from yesterday.

I have two other “forgotten” escape stories from the the occupied Philippines to share—in both cases, by sailing thousands of miles to Australia, in tiny, open boats. In fact, it was reading these two books that ultimately led me to Parsons’s story.

  • First, The War Journal of Major Damon “Rocky” Gause. Gause was an army pilot who was captured on Bataan, escaped, swam 3 miles to Corregidor, and ultimately sailed to Australia in a tiny fishing boat with another officer—neither of whom had any prior sailing experience. He volunteered to go back to combat, and died, sadly, in a training accident in March 1944. His son, Damon Jr., whom he never met, found his journals and wrote the book. (Good summary.)

  • Second, South From Corregidor. A somewhat similar story, except that it involved a Navy captain who rounded up a group of 17 sailors, and headed to Australia in a lifeboat. I was fascinated that the captain wrote the book originally while the war was still going on. The version that’s available now explains what happened to all 18 men afterward. (Lengthy but interesting summary.)

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7 other things worth your time

  • I started thinking about my “watching the mock jury” experience, above after reading about Lisa Christensen, an alternate juror in the Derek Chauvin trial. She seemed to say something very astute—basically separating her “feeling” that Chauvin was guilty of criminal homicide, from the legal question of whether his actions technically constituted “murder” under Minnesota law. To be very transparent (core value!), I wrote the whole “mock jury” reflection above thinking that I had a profound point to make about how juries actually make decisions. But, having written this now, I think it’s too big a stretch. Still, I was impressed that Christensen separated the two issues as she did. I think lawyers always wonder if jurors will really be able to do that. (USA Today)

  • Moving along… Consumer Reports says it tricked the Autopilot system on a 2020 Tesla Model Y, to see if it would drive without anyone in the driver’s seat. (It did, they say.) They used the very low-tech method, the said, of putting a weighted chain on the wheel and keeping the seat belt buckled on the driver’s seat. (CNBC)

  • “The House voted Thursday on a bill that would admit Washington, D.C., as the 51st state, although the measure is likely to fail in the evenly divided Senate. The legislation passed along party lines with a vote of 216 to 208, with no Republicans voting in favor.” (CBS News)

  • President Joe Biden plans on almost doubling the capital gains tax rate for wealthy individuals ($1 million in annual income+) to 39.6% to help pay for a raft of social spending, “an increase from the current base rate of 20%.” (Bloomberg)

  • A Syrian man spent four years stuck on an abandoned container ship off the coast of Egypt after Egyptian authorities ruled that he was the ship’s legal guardian, but its owners were unable to pay for fuel or maintenance. He was released recently, but I was surprised to learn that this situation is not at all unique: reportedly there are “250 active cases around the world where crews are simply left to fend for themselves” including one ship in Iran, where “19 mostly Indian crew members of the bulk carrier Ula are on hunger strike after their vessel was abandoned by its owners in July 2019.” (BBC)

  • There’s been so little rainfall around some areas of Mexico City that residents no longer have running water, and are “reverting to older ways of distributing water - transporting containers on donkeys' backs.” (Reuters)

  • Google was down in Argentina for three hours, apparently because the company failed to renew the google.com.ar domain, and an individual we can describe only as “an Argentine internet user” snapped it up. Apparently, Google got it back. (Mercopress)

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