THE VERDICT IS IN

by William D. Meeker

Bill Meeker is the President of the Milwaukee chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin. He is also a conscientious citizen with a wry sense of humor and a conviction that, if he is to insist on receiving the rights of first-class citizenship, it is also his duty to carry out its responsibilities. Here is how he tells it:

Who, me—the one who never wins anything except an occasional $1 scratch-off lottery prize or an opportunity to buy some choice property accessible only to helicopters and mosquitoes—summoned to jury duty? Impossible! Someone must be suing me instead, or else this is a newer and more cleverly packaged real estate scam. I'd better read that summons again more closely. But no, I am to be a reserve juror. I am instructed to call the Milwaukee County Courthouse Jury Management Office to see if I am needed. What if I'm actually picked to serve? I feel excitement and fear simultaneously.

Co-workers and friends rallied to support me. "Don't worry, you don't stand a chance. You're a federal employee. They don't pick federal employees." "They won't pick you. They rejected me twice after I told them I was a musician. The whole experience was pretty boring, but the hot chocolate was great."

But I am not a musician. Interestingly, none of my friends mentioned my blindness as a possible reason for rejection. None of us had considered two pivotal factors: First, potential jurors will go to almost any extremes of whining, crying, preposterous excuses, and grovelings to avoid jury service. Second, at the time of my adventure jury selection was underway in the trial of a Cedarburg man for the brutal and highly publicized murder of his wife. So I was needed, and I did report to the auditorium-like jury assembly room just in time, as it turned out, to catch the last half of the exciting western movie, Hangman's Knot, on the wide screen TV. From time to time the overhead loudspeaker blared my name along with a number (usually above twenty-five) which corresponded to a number painted on the floor on which I was to stand—so far, nothing exceeding my intellectual capabilities.

Having found my numbered spot by using my eight-plus years of parochial school training in "forming an orderly line," I visited a number of courtrooms, listened to a variety of questions from lawyers and judges, and heard an amazing array of preposterous, whining, groveling excuses for why these potential jurors were unable to serve. It was a humbling experience to see otherwise ordinary people displaying a level of creativity normally reserved for writers of fantasy.

In a civil courtroom on my second day of call and wait and march in line, a sufficient number of people ahead of me had presented creative enough excuses to be released from jury service that it became my turn to sit in the jury box and be questioned by the attorneys. When I rose from the general seating to approach the jury box, opposing counsels rocketed from their seats to intercept and escort me around the videotape player (present to play a recorded deposition) into the jury box. To my surprise, not a single question about my blindness was asked, and when the final jury selection was made, I was among those selected. The trial, a trumped-up defamation of character suit, lasted two days. Seeing me using my Braille 'n Speak, the judge asked if I was taking notes and answered "good" in a tone which made me think that he wished more of my fellow jurors would do likewise when I said that I was. My fellow jurors exhibited one piece of noteworthy behavior:

When the time came to be marched from the jury room into the courtroom each day and after breaks and lunch, they all hung back deferentially to allow me to lead the procession into the jury box. But when court recessed for breaks, lunch, and the evening, they stampeded off, not caring if I was first or last. Well, "When the going gets tough,...."

After rendering our verdict on the third day, we were thanked for our service and assured that we would not be called again for at least two years. Too bad, I enjoyed serving. Also I enjoyed the attention that was not paid to my blindness. Ladies and gentlemen: the jury has reached a verdict: there is justice for blind people in the Milwaukee County court system.