NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.
In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.
Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.
by Larry Brody
When Gwen the Beautiful received her summons for jury duty I freaked.
It was for not one, not two, not even three but six months. Six months of early morning wake-ups and driving into Yellville, our county seat. Interviews by attorneys. Testimony. Deliberation. Pressure. Maybe even retaliation. You know, Standard Operating Procedure in L.A.
But Gwen wanted to help insure that justice was done. So on the appointed day I took her into town and escorted her into the old courthouse, where she joined 80 other prospective jurors. I was amazed because they all were dressed in their Sunday best and no one was grousing. This definitely wasn’t the world I’d come from. I asked the Bailiff when he thought I should come back, just in case Gwen was dismissed early and could go home.
“I wouldn’t worry about that,” he said. “Judge hasn’t started his welcome talk yet, and the lawyers won’t have at ‘em till after lunch.”
“How many trials do they need jurors for?” I said.
“Ain’t but one today.”
“What about the rest of the session?”
“Just the one today is all.” The bailiff grinned at my surprise. “I’d say we average about one trial a month. Johnny Cochran woulda gone broke.”
I went on home. Gwen called on her lunch break and said she was having a great time. She was the only prospective juror who didn’t already know all the others. In fact, she was the only prospective juror who hadn’t gone to high school with all the others. But everyone had accepted her. She fitted right in.
A couple of hours later she called again, excited about having been chosen as a juror in a case of Eminent Domain. She was the first juror picked – because when the county’s lawyer asked how she felt about the government being able to seize private property she was the first person who didn’t jump up screaming, “Nobody can take my land!”
Gwen didn’t know the details yet and wouldn’t have told me if she did, but the gist was that the state had taken a house and half an acre of land for a highway bypass and the owners didn’t believe they’d been paid enough. She figured the case would be wrapped up by the end of the day because, “Everybody on the jury needs to get home in time for dinner, and nobody eats later than seven.”
Sure enough, at about six that evening I got the call to come fetch her, and heard the blow-by-blow on our way home.
“It took an hour and a half for both sides to present their case,” Gwen said, “and another hour and a half for us to reach a verdict. It was about that lot across from Sara the Vet’s office. The state paid the family that owned it $30,000. In his opening speech their lawyer said they wanted $234,000. Later he said they wanted $101,000. And in his closing speech he said they wanted $54,000. But he never showed us any evidence for any of those numbers.
“What about the state?”
“They had a witness who went over some charts to explain how they arrived at their $30,000 figure. He talked for most of the trial.”
“So what was the decision?”
“Well, four of the jurors tried to buy that land at one time or another in the past year and the rest of us all knew it pretty well because we’ve been by a million times. Two of the jurors knew the owners and liked them. Two others knew them and didn’t like them. One juror knew their lawyer’s wife. No one knew the state’s lawyers because they were from Little Rock.
“It seemed to us that what the state gave the owners was fair, but their lawyer’s cousin heard his fee was going to be $7000 so we decided the state should pay fourteen thousand dollars more so the owners and the lawyer could both come out a little ahead.”
“But you didn’t have to do that!”
“Sure we did. Those people couldn’t afford to pay for the trial if they didn’t win something. And why should the government be able to just waltz in and take people’s land?”
You can say what you want about the American judicial system, but I’m proud of my wife and her jury.
It’s good to know that in a world where everyone knows everyone else justice can’t help but prevail.