I recently posted an article about getting selected for a jury and promised you, the Cosby Sweaters family, a follow-up post about the trial itself. Well get comfortable, kiddies, because the trial is over, the cone of silence has been lifted, and I’m about to drop some legal bombs.
The trial was a civil case revolving around a traffic accident. The accident took place in the city of Hawthorne, CA at 2:45 PM on Christmas Eve 2007. Yes, that’s how fast the law works. This is where the accident took place:
Here’s the funny thing about that photo: it’s the EXACT SAME PHOTO used by the Plaintiff’s counsel during the trial to illustrate the intersection to us, the jurors. Did Mr. Fancy Lawyer Pants grab his camera and go to the scene and take a high quality snapshot? Nope! He just went to Google Maps and pulled a snapshot using Google street view. He also had it blown up to epic proportions so we would have a much better view of the already grainy photo. Until that day, I had no idea that Barbizon had a law school.
The Plaintiffs, two young Hispanic gentlemen who were nineteen at the time, were driving a Mercedes (a graduation gift) to their cousin’s house, though I’m still unclear as to which of their 357 cousins they were going to visit. They claim that they had the green light as they travelled eastbound on 111th street and that the Defendant (more on her in a minute) pulled out in front of them and they collided. Since cameras weren’t allowed in the courtroom, I have spent hours searching the internet for pictures that best capture the people involved in the case. Here’s a picture of the Plaintiffs, presumably with one their cousins:
The Defendant was a Guatemalan woman in her sixties. She moved to the United States when she was thirty-two years old. She had never been to school – ever. She also didn’t speak a word of English. She did have a translator, though, and was able to participate in the lawsuit against her because of this. Her story was that she was one her way to the bread store to buy bread for Christmas Eve dinner. Thirty family members (probably cousins) were to descend upon her home that evening for a traditional Christmas feast of tamales and bread. She claimed she exited the freeway (the exit is on the right side of the street view above) and turned right on Hawthorne where she saw the green light and proceeded to cross the intersection when the reckless youth barreled into her Mitsubishi Montero. Here’s a picture of the nice old lady:
So the table had been set and the twelve of us were seated to enjoy what would turn into four days of shit sandwiches, served up hot and nasty. The Plaintiffs went first, calling the father (and car owner) to the stand to discuss the car:
It was a 1999 Mercedes he paid “ten or eleven thousand for” in 2005. He had given it to his son as a graduation gift. Speaking of graduation, the two boys had both furthered their post-high school academic careers at engineering school, learning to lay down fresh tracks so they could be big hip hop stars one day. One of them, it came to light, decided to also attend barber school afterwards. I’m telling you, this case was RIVETING. In any case, the father was asked to read the towing bill and repair estimate given to him after the wreck. The insurance company wrote the car off, as it was cheaper to do that than fix it.
The next witness called to the stand was the expert witness, the doctor they saw after the accident:
Here’s a tip to all of you readers out there – become a professional expert witness. For some odd reason he was asked, under oath, what his fee for being at the trial was. He answered, “For a half day? $2400.” Twenty four hundred bucks for a half day? Sign. Me. Up. Anyway, he testified that the boys had sustained spinal trauma, rib sprain, and other crap you get when you slam into something at 30 MPH. He went on to say that it was possible that they could have long term effects but had stopped coming to see him after about a month of treatment.
The boys each took the stand next. Their story was that the boy who owned the car was picking up the other one, who lives one block away from that intersection. He had just finished laying down a fresh new beat and was going to pick up his friend so they could go listen to it on the ol’ hi-fi at – you guessed it – his cousin’s house. They turned left onto 111th and, seeing they had the green light and moving no faster than the mandated 25-30 MPH, proceeded across Hawthorne. At the last second the passenger saw the Montero pull out and they swerved quickly to miss her. Obviously, they failed.
At this point it’s day two of the trial. I know the Defendant has no witnesses to call to the stand, meaning she’ll be the only one. I figure it’s a cakewalk from here. She’ll tell her story, we’ll deliberate quickly and be done with this no later than 5:00 PM. I was feeling good.
Then it happened. She took the stand. For the next day and a half she told her story via her translator. When she was cross-examined by the Plaintiff’s counsel it got really ugly. She kept having trouble understanding the questions. You see, in her deposition taken in July 2009, she said that she had switched lanes, travelled a certain distance, etc. In her sworn testimony during the trial she said she never changed lanes and 100 feet of travel to the intersection from the off-ramp became 50 feet. The lawyer would ask, “Which was it?” She would answer, “I don’t understand.” This dance went on for hours and hours. At one point she was confused between her right and her left. No lie – right and left. The judge asked her, “Hold up your right hand.” She started to lift her left, thought about it, and then raised her right. This woman had no idea about anything. Ever. How she was ever allowed behind a wheel was beyond me. She also couldn’t tell time. She didn’t know the difference between ten seconds and ten minutes. Her testimony was agonizing. Here’s what I looked like the entire time she was on the stand. Note that in this picture I am slightly more tan:
The basic argument from the Plaintiff’s counsel was that these boys, who live near the intersection and travel it daily, made it across seven lanes of traffic without anyone else being hit and no one honking at them. There was also no counter suit brought by the defendant, despite having multiple surgeries after the accident. The argument on the Defendant’s side was that you had two boys listening to their damned hippity hop music in a Mercedes and they were probably not paying attention to the road, almost certainly speeding, ran the light and barreled into the innocent, feeble, mostly blind woman who doesn’t understand time or left from right. Those were the closing arguments at the end of day three.
9:00 AM Friday morning. We, the jury, begin deliberations. The first thing you have to do is pick a foreman, someone to hand the baliff the verdict and say “Yes, your honor” a couple of times. I had no interest in the job. I’ve had my voice heard in a courtroom plenty of times, though it’s usually heard saying “Not guilty” or “No contest.” All I cared about was that this one woman on the jury NOT be the foreman, as I knew she would make things much more difficult than need be. I don’t know her name. I never learned and I never cared to. Let me paint you this picture: late forties, early fifties. Long, ratty grey hair. Glasses. Always wore a shawl. When asked what her profession was during jury selection she said, “I’m a fiction author and artist, mostly painting and sculpture.” I’m all for art, mind you, and I love to write. I am not, however, a fan of middle-aged author/artist/hippie/self-proclaimed intellectuals who are loving every minute of “being a part of the process”. The process, as well as the lady who became the foreman because she said she wanted to do it, can suck it.
The deliberation took two hours. Our foreman did exactly what I knew she would. She made everything difficult. She was convinced that the boys were speeding (not in the evidence), that she looked both ways (her testimony was that she “…watched the green light the whole time”), that the boys should have been paying more attention (they testified that they were), the music was probably too loud (they testified that it wasn’t), and that young boys just aren’t good drivers (yet, somehow, frail old foreign women with a lazy eye in SUVs are the best drivers ever). We argued about this for a while and finally were able to unanimously decide that the woman was negligent and that her negligence led to their injuries. Ten of the twelve of us (myself not included) also felt that the boys were negligent and that said negligence brought them harm as well. In the end we decided to give 80% of the responsibility to her, and the remaining 20% to them. We awarded the boys their medical expenses plus the value of the car, a sum that the old lady would have to pay 80% of. The clerk read the verdict to the judge, the jury and the lawyers. The plaintiffs were not present but I have every confidence they later took a photo much like this one:
So that’s it. In hindsight I was glad to have been on a jury as it’s another one of life’s adventures I can cross off my list. That being said, I never want to do it again.