Our first week in San Antonio has been spent re-discovering the city where we began our travels. Anticipating a month of jury duty, we reconnoitered the territory, locating parking garages and bus stops, and tried to figure the time it would take for us to get to court from our motel. We picked up the mail, welcomed a new computer into our lives - a process which always takes several days and a little bit of cursing - and explored some of San Antonio. San Antonio River Walk
As it turned out, our jury duty only lasted one day, a civilized and interesting experience. We were part of a group of almost four hundred called for that Tuesday morning. We were each called to one panel. Elsa's group marched through an underground tunnel to a neighboring courthouse, rode an elevator up four stories, stood outside the courtoom door for a few moments, and then, dismissed from that case, hiked back to the central jury room where she spent the remainder of the day reading a book.
Bob moved somewhat farther through the process. After no fewer than four roll calls (one to exit the central jury room, the next to line up in order on two sides of the basement corridor, the third to repeat the lineup outside the second floor courtroom, and the fourth in the same place, but after the panel had been handed over, like a baton in a relay, from the basement bailiff to the courtroom bailiff) the panel was seated, given some collective voir dire (in Texas this is called VOAR DYER), and sent out to recess. After recess, the panel was renumbered and Bob dropped from the random number 14 to 33 out of 48. He could sense what was coming because those near the bottom of the list he wouldn't want on any jury. Roll was taken once more and they returned to the court room for individual questions. The only question asked Bob was about the litigation he had been involved in. He tried to explain the case in which he, representing a wife in a dissolution proceeding, had sued the husband's attorney for malpractice (for pretending to represent both parties), and been sued himself for malpractice and (civil) malicious prosecution, but the attorneys had clearly made up their minds. When the panel was recalled after the second recess, it was no surprise that he was not placed on the jury. Which was too bad, since it looked like an interesting case of the use of force in affecting an arrest. Was the defendant acting in self-defense when he fought back?
Years ago, in California, Bob had to travel down to the Los Angeles Superior Court every court day for a month; that experience resulted in his being called to two panels but never to a jury. In Texas they call lots more people, but after one day, if you're not selected for a jury, then you're put to the bottom of the list, not to be called again for three years. By that time we will almost be at the age of 70 at which one is permitted to decline to serve. Breckenridge Park
The bailiffs, judges and attorneys whom we met were all polite and courteous, which pleased us. But we must add two more comments. First, in the case Bob might have heard, the issue boiled down to the testimony of the policeman versus that of the defendant; there were no witnesses. It would have been much better to have the jury hear that testimony immediately after the event, but the case did not come to court until a year later, when memories were surely stale and self-serving. This relates to the second comment. One juror said she could not abide by the defendant's right to remain silent. When questioned, she explained that in a case such as this she wanted to hear both sides of the story. No doubt she was experienced in settling children's disputes. But she was quite right, from the point of view of the search for truth. But the court, of course, is interested in justice, not truth, and she was dismissed for cause on the unopposed motion of the prosecutor.
If there ever were a serious effort to radically change the jury system in the U.S., the result, no doubt, would be similar to that experienced by the Clintons when they tried to overhaul health care from top to bottom -- a huge debacle. The fact is that revolutionary change in law is out of the question in our political and judicial system, and so we shall continue to amend our laws with scotch tape and safety pins as long as the nation survives. It's too bad in such matters which really would be better repaired by an entirely new system.
But back to San Antonio. The weather when we arrived, was perfect Indian Summer -- almost cloudless blue skies, cool but not windy. On Saturday, before reporting for jury duty, we found Breckenridge Park, next to the San Antonio Zoo, and explored the Sunken Garden. This was constructed, starting about 1930, from the remains of an old quarry. A Japanese American family hired to design and build it spent a decade creating waterways, stone pillars, little stone bridges and other eye-catching treats, and landscaping the whole area. They lived at the garden and ran a popular tea house and raised a family. But in 1942 they were shipped off to an Internment Camp as enemy aliens. Two sons served in the war, but that didn't help the parents. After the Sunken Garden war it was renamed Chinese Garden and the family moved to California. In the winter the water is drained from the fountains and ponds, so a lot of the charm is gone. The whole effect is of something outdated and in need of repair.
Another day we drove around a northern suburb named Hollywood Park, enjoying being far from rush hour freeway traffic and enjoying the holiday decorations on the houses. On entering the community we saw a sign reading SAVE OUR DEER. OPPOSE THE BAN. We soon began to understand. There were hundreds of deer in sight, a few in each yard, not only does and fawns as you may see in the wild, but bucks with large racks of antlers. They weren't spooked by the cars driving by, or even the homeowners stringing Christmas lights. We were abashed that the camera was back in the hotel room. From what we can learn on the Internet, these deer have been part of the neighborhood for perhaps a decade, the population increasing all the while. As the deer herd increases, local residents hotly debate the options -- relocation, a ban on feeding, or shooting each deer annually with darts containing contraceptives. The deer, meanwhile, continue to pose prettily.
We have a comfortable hotel and have decided to stay in San Antonio through Christmas, catching up on our information management, enjoying the clement weather, refreshing our wardrobe, and sighting the occasional see, or vice-versa.