Braille Monitor July 1985
As we intensify our campaigns of public education and of raising the self awareness of the blind, many of the time-honored barriers to first-class citizenship are beginning to crumble. Sometimes the advances are dramatic. Sometimes they are quiet and matter-of fact.
Traditionally the state of Tennessee has barred blind persons from serving on juries. Mostly the practice has gone unchallenged, the blind and the sighted alike taking it for granted and giving it little attention--but times are changing. In the fall of 1984 a blind man in Nashville decided to resist. He was about to be quietly "excused" from jury service, but he felt a yearning and went to the media. In one form or another the following item appeared last December on several occasions in the Tennessee press:
Blind Man Selected As Juror
Nobody is talking much, but John R. Robb, legally blind since birth and totally blind since the age of 9, has been chosen to be on a jury in Chancery Court.
Robb, believed to be the first blind person in Tennessee to be seated on a jury, said yesterday he would go in at 9 a.m. today.
"I don't want to talk too much and get myself dropped," he added quickly. "It's in progress, so I can't comment except to say he's on the jury," confirmed Chancellor Irvin Kilcrease Jr. Lawyers involved in the case were mum too, explaining they were unable to comment on Robb's presence until the case was settled.
But Robb, an unsuccessful at-large candidate for Metro Council last year, was enthusiastic.
"I'm real tickeled that I'm seated." Last week, 6th Circuit Court Judge James Swiggart, who placed Robb on the venire, had said he thought Robb's chances of being seated were not good. Attorneys, he said, might worry about Robb's handicap, which prevents him from being able to view evidence. Robb had indicated at that time that evidence, including photographs, could be described to him.
Robb was willing to talk some about the jury selection process and said, "I was expecting to get bumped anytime. "They asked everybody if they had problems with understanding people who spoke languages."
The plaintiff in the Chancery Court case, a real estate malpractice suit, is Iranian, and speaks with an accent. "I 've got a good ear for dialects," Robb said.
Robb said none of the three attorneys in the case asked him questions or made any reference to his blindness, though they did ask him about his place of employment.
Robb has his own home business selling vitamins, shoes, and fuel oil additives. "They issued three of four peremptory challenges," Robb pointed out. "One girl had gotten bit by a spider, and she said she had thought about suing the doctor. She got a peremptory challenge." Four peremptory challenges are available to each party in a case. Each one allows the party to dismiss a potential juror without giving a reason. Robb, who said he wanted to exercise his constitutional right and do his civic duty by serving on a jury, had feared he would be dropped with a peremptory challenge.
Mr. Robb received a certificate from the Court for his service:
State of Tennessee
Tenth Judicial Circuit
Greetings: Be It Hereby Known That
Is awarded this certificate of appreciation for the conscientious performance as a juror in the Circuit Courts of Davidson County and in recognition of a valuable contribution to the administration of justice.
JUDGES OF THE TENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
Hamilton Gayden, First Circuit Court
Harry S. Lester, Second Circuit Court
Joe C. Loser, Jr., Third Circuit Court
Walter C. Kurtz, Fifth Circuit Court
James M. Swiggart, Sixth Circuit Court
In testimony whereof, I hereunto subscribe my hand and affix the seal of said Court, at Office, in Nashville, the 6th day of December in the Year One Thousand Nine Hundred Eighty-Four and in the 209th Year of American Independence.
George L. Rooker, Circuit Court Clerk