Thursday, June 29, 2017

Picking a Jury

The year before I retired as a District Court Judge, I did a weekly blog on some of the experiences I had during more than a quarter century on the trial court bench.[1]  The following was my post on April 16, 2016:

Jury selection is the first, and very possibly the most important part of a jury trial.  Prospective jurors are placed under oath and the judge and attorneys ask questions to determine if they can be fair and impartial in the trial.

This process, called voire dire (to speak the truth) seeks to eliminate potential jurors who have preconceived opinions on how the trial should end up or has prejudices (conscious or subconscious) which would prevent them from listening to the evidence and the judge’s instructions on the law.

*  *  *  *  *

In one criminal case I tried, the defendant was Hispanic who did not speak English.  Even today, there are people who are prejudiced against people of color, so I needed to ask if there was anyone on the jury panel who could not presume the defendant guilty simply because of his race.  One juror raised his hand, and said he could not judge a Hispanic fairly and impartially.  The juror had an Irish surname.

Naturally, I dismissed the prospective juror from the panel.  But before I did, I said, “It is really sad that a person of our Irish heritage could be prejudiced against people coming to this country to find a better life, as our ancestors were forced from their native land because of a famine.  When they reached this land, they, too were discriminated against.  Cartoons in papers depicted Irishmen as baboons.  Help wanted signs included ‘No Irish Need Apply’.  How is it that we have forgotten the injustice of ignorant prejudice and become the bigots ourselves?”

(I must admit that the real words I used at the time were far less eloquent than those above, but the sentiments were identical.)

The vase majority of jurors summoned do their best to set aside any preconceived notions of how the case should end and promise to listen to the evidence, apply the law that the judge gives and give a fair an impartial verdict.  THAT is the main reason why the American system of Justice is the best in the world!

[1] If you’re interested, you can find the blog at

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Philando Castile and Derek Geer

Thousands of words have been written and spoken on media since a jury found officer Yeronimo Janez not guilty of manslaughter in the shooting of Philando Castile here in Minnesota. 

While Mr. Castile may have used marijuana before he was stopped, it is clear in retrospect that he did nothing that would justify him losing his life in this incident.  One of the jurors, interviewed by Minnesota Public Radio, said "What happened to Philando is not OK to any of us. Nobody felt good about any part of this.”[1]

Last week, a post showed up on my Facebook page about Deputy Derek Geer of the Mesa County (Colorado) who was killed in the line of duty after attempting to apprehend a teenage suspect reported to have a gun by Tasing him.  The youth managed to get his gun out and fatally wound Deputy Geer.[2] 

The Facebook post ended by saying “Do the right thing always but never lose sight of the number one goal.  Go home to your loved ones at the end of your shift.”

So, is this where we are today?  Do we need to decide who is more deserving to live, the law enforcement officer who is doing his job best he can, or the innocent (usually African American) man who is pulled over (for the umpteenth time in the past several months) because he looks like a robbery suspect – that is, he’s African American.

So that’s our assignment for today.  Ponder the value of a human life, and whose is “more valuable.”

An observation:  If you finished that assignment in two or three seconds, you have not thought hard enough.

I have gone on a silent retreat most Novembers for the past 30 years.  One of the assignments we were given on one of those retreats was to take a scene from scripture, read it carefully and slowly, and then sit back, close your eyes and put yourself into that scene.  I’ve done it a couple of times, with remarkable results. 

If you finished that assignment in seconds, I would ask you to put yourself into a scene.  Imagine yourself as Deputy Geer’s wife, Kate, or one of his children, Ian or Macey.  Or imagine yourself as Philado Castile’s mother, Valerie Castile, or one of the grade school kids who asks "What happened to Mr. Phil?"

I suspect no one could complete the assignment in seconds after doing this.  I know I’ll be pondering this issue for a long time – likely the rest of my life. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Morals and Dogma

Morals and Dogma is a philosophical work, created by an individual who was an extraordinarily prolific writer even for an age when prolific writing was the norm. It was also fashioned in the style of Pike's time when public speaking was a high art form and Pike was known far and wide for his skills in this area. Morals and Dogma is not a manifesto (i.e. public declaration of principles, policies, or intentions) for Masonry or even for the Scottish Rite's Southern Jurisdiction. It is, rather, an attempt by Pike to provide a framework for understanding religions and philosophies of the past.[1]

Morals and Dogma[2] is the work of Albert Pike with his take on principles of Freemasonry, especially those of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry.  The lessons of the Scottish Rite are presented in plays and lectures, which are explained at some length in the book.  This is one of my favorite lectures on Tolerance.

This Degree is chiefly devoted to TOLERATION; and it inculcates in the strongest manner that great leading idea of the Ancient Art. that a belief in the one True God. and a moral and virtuous life, constitute the only religious requisites needed to enable a man to be a Mason.

Masonry has ever the most vivid remembrance of the terrible and artificial torments that were used to put down new forms of religion or extinguish the old. …

Man never had the right to usurp the unexercised prerogative of God, and condemn and punish another for his belief. Born in a Protestant land, we are of that faith. If we had opened our eyes to the light under the shadows of St. Peter's at Rome, we should have been devout Catholics; born in the Jewish quarter of Aleppo, we should have contemned Christ as an imposter; in Constantinople, we should have cried "Allah il Allah, God is great and Mahomet is his prophet!" Birth, place, and education give us our faith. Few believe in any religion because they have examined the evidences of its authenticity, and made up a formal judgment, upon weighing the testimony. Not one man in ten thousand knows anything about the proofs of his faith. We believe what we are taught; and those are most fanatical who know least of the evidences on which their creed is based. Facts and testimony are not, except in very rare instances, the ground-work of faith. It is an imperative law of God's Economy, unyielding and inflexible as Himself, that man shall accept without question the belief of those among whom he is born and reared; the faith so made a part of his nature resists all evidence to the contrary; and he will disbelieve even the evidence of his own senses, rather than yield up the religious belief which has grown up in him, flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone.

What is truth to me is not truth to another. The same arguments and evidences that convince one mind make no impression on another. This difference is in men at their birth. No man is entitled positively to assert that he is right, where other men, equally intelligent and equally well-informed, hold directly the opposite opinion. Each thinks it impossible for the other to be sincere, and each, as to that, is equally in error. "What is truth?" was a profound question, the most suggestive one ever put to man.

Many beliefs of former and present times seem incomprehensible. They startle us with a new glimpse into the human soul, that mysterious thing, more mysterious the more we note its workings. Here is a man superior to myself in intellect and learning; and yet he sincerely believes what seems to me too absurd to merit confutation; and I cannot conceive, and sincere!}' do not believe, that he is both sane and honest. And yet he is both. His reason is as perfect as mine, and he is as honest as I.

[2] A complete online text of Morals and Dogma can be found at .  This excerpt comes from pages 164-166.