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Saturday, Dec. 14, 2002
The Feds gave me the old heave-ho.

In a landmark decision that kept alive the tiny flame of hope I have for the survival of the Justice Department, they decided that bearing the full weight of my legal skills might be best left for another day. They blessed me for coming to jury selection, patted me on the head and sent me scampering out the door.

I don’t think it was much more than a coincidence though. Nah, couldn’t be.

Ever been to jury selection? They sit you down in front of the lawyers and the defendant and the judge and go through all the little rituals. Do you know the lawyers, do you know the defendant, is there anything that would prevent you from reaching an impartial decision based on the defendants race or appearance?

No, no and no.

I figured out most of the case by association. The defendant was charged with 5 counts of drug possession and another couple for gun running. Obviously he decided that was a bit unfair, but gee whiz dude, 5 counts? Over 2 years? Don’t you think that maybe the prosecution might have just a teeny little bit of evidence to toss your way?

The judge was a local legend, a man who had been on the bench for longer than I’d been alive, one of those curious Southern creations known universally as a “character”. He regaled us with folksy little anecdotes for a while, rasping on and on about pheasant hunting or changing the oil in a Studebaker or something and then casually tied that into the history of the law in 19th century Russia without so much as a pause for breath.

He was as neat as a single malt Scotch, one of those fellows you’d just like to sit and swap yarns with for a year or so. He looked awfully familiar to me, and his name was very familiar. And I fell in love with him when he coughingly interrupted the dashing young defense attorney’s blathering drone with “For corns sake councilor, will you get to the point before I reach retirement?”

The questions got a little more specific and my fellow candidates began raising their hands to acknowledge them. My talkative neighbor from California raised his hand for just about every one, and whispered conspiratorially “See? This is how you do it. You get the defense guy to figure you’re the most contrary juror ever. Make him nervous about picking you. Learned that on the last case I was on.”

Do you have strong feelings about drug use? Ever been in a federal trial before? Do you drive a Plymouth?

They finally got me to wave a hand when they asked about the NRA. Ever been a member?

Yeah, I used to be. So were about half the males in attendance. Do you have strong feelings about stored ammunition?

Huh? ‘Course I do.

So the Marshal comes up to a few of us and beckons and when he gets to me he says “Mr. Outfoxed, will you please accompany me to chambers? The judge wants to ask a few questions.” He motioned to ex-California too, who winked at me as if to say “Told ya so. We’re as good as out of here, my man.”

They lined us up outside the chamber door, those of us who had been honest enough (or stupid enough) to answer in the affirmative to some of the more specific things. Ex-CA kept up a running line of commentary as we waited our turn. “Me? I’m going in there and letting them know I’m no good for this case. I know how this stuff works. You just watch my smoke, I know how these lawyers think,” etc. etc. I’d already deduced from his tasseled loafers and fake & bake tan that he absolutely must be in the used car game, and figured him to lead the judge on a merry chase down Bullshit Lane in an effort to gain his freedom from jury duty.

Sure enough he was in there an intolerable amount of time before he emerged. He looked pretty pleased with himself and all but chucked me in the ribs on the way by. “No sweat, bro. You’re next.”

The judge waved me to a chair and the lawyers murmured greetings and shuffled lists in front of them. I half expected the defense attorney to be the one doing the talking but it was the judge who was running this show. He gave me a twinkly smile and asked “Now then, Mr. Outfoxed, you have an issue with the storage of ammunition? Anything you care to say?”

I gave him my best hunting lodge grin and drawled “Nope. Ain’t got a thing against it. S’long as it’s in the right hands.”

That got a twitch out of the defense attorney. “Judge, could you have him clarify that?”

The judge looked at me with a grin. “Right hands, Mr. Outfoxed?”

“Why shoot, judge, I got a shotgun myself. Couple boxes of shells, too. Can’t see much harm in that. But you know some of these old boys just can’t seem to handle it. Might go out and hurt somebody. Might get into the wrong hands, even. Be a real shame if that happened. But I reckon that’s how you folks stay employed, after all.”

The defense attorney was by now making furious pen slashing notations on his list.

But I was just getting started. “By the way judge, didn’t you have a daughter who went to school at ______ High in the 70’s? How’s she been doing lately? Heard she’s doing real well in that real estate gig.”

The DA looked horrified. “Your honor if I may . . . “

But the judge shushed him with a little backhand wave. “Why, she’s doing just fine, son. Nice of you to ask. Say, wasn’t it you and that other fella who pulled off that stunt with the live quail at graduation? I swear, you know I’ve been around long enough to see some funny stuff, but that one . . . “

Once again, I thanked the gods of personal appearances that I haven’t changed all that much from High School, and silently blessed the judge for having an excellent memory. We had a nice chat, he and I did. Why, even the stenographer was grinning by the time we finished up.

I slipped back into my seat in the courtroom and Ex-CA was all a-twither. “So? How’d it go? You weren’t in there very long.”

“Oh, it went all right. I said my piece and they seemed okay with it.”

“Oh man, you got to go for the throat, bro. You don’t want to get all tangled up in some case that’s gonna go on and on for weeks do ya?” He seemed very disappointed in me, after all his coaching, and settled back into the bench with an audible sigh. “They sure ain’t gonna want me. One thing I learned was how to get out of this stuff. Why, back in California, they . . “

He got cut off as the judge rolled back into court and the bailiff advised us to stand. He got right to it. “The following names will be asked to serve as jurors in this case. Please come up to the jury box to be sworn in. Adams, Bentley . . . “ and he rolled down the list in order, as Ex-CA began packing up his coat and magazine in anticipation.

He needn’t have bothered. His was the last name to be called. And he sounded quite a bit like a beached whale with that big puff of air he let out. “Gaaahhhh, oh dammit, dammit.”

Made sense to me. A good jury surely ought to have a man with all that experience behind him. Even if it was in California.

Me? They don’t need old Outfoxed. I’d just muddle up the whole thing. The DA thought so. I believe the judge probably did too, but in an entirely different way. He was much too dignified to wave or anything as the excused juror candidates made their bolt to freedom, but I swear.

I swear he grinned at me.

Probably just a coincidence. Yup. I'm all for believing it was that stuff about stored ammunition that did me in.

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