My new superhero name is Justice Man, because I’ve been on jury duty for the past week, and every morning as I left for court Beth would tell me, “Have a nice day, honey. Do justice!” And justice I did. Because I am … Justice Man!!!
I reported for jury service last Monday, along with a couple hundred other jury pool losers. (Star sighting: Janel Moloney (Donna Moss) of West Wing was there too, only I don’t know if she was picked for a jury. She probably played her Hollywood Celeb card and skated.) Me and about 30 other schmoes were rounded up and sent to one of the courtrooms, and by the end of the day 12 of us were on the jury (I was #12) and the attorneys were already doing opening statements.
The case I was on was a civil matter in the L.A. Superior Court. The parties were a landlord and a doctor who was renting office space. The doctor owed a buttload of back rent, and when the landlord sued him for it the doctor counter-sued them for $1.5 million in lost profits, alleged that the deteriorating state of the building led to him losing patients and thus the lost profits.
The opening statements. Oy… One attorney’s opening statement was straight out of a David E. Kelly drama, citing Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth and telling us that “There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear — but you’ll know exactly what it is after I present my case.” Talk about cheesy. I almost groaned listening to it. It was a harbinger of things to come.
We heard testimony from the doctor and the landlord and other witnesses for the rest of the week and the case boiled down to these points:
- The doctor owed a metric buttload of back rent: $50,000+
- The building was slightly better than a slum: frequently broken elevators, hot air conditioning and cold heating, smelly corridors, gross bathrooms, drug dealers and buyers in the lobby — basically, your basic South-Central L.A. medical center.
- Fewer and fewer patients came to the doctor’s office over the years — he claimed it was because of the elevators and air conditioning and general poor condition of the building.
- Because his patient base was dropping, the doctor was seeking more than $1.5 million in lost profits
- The doctor claimed he “wanted” to pay his rent but didn’t because A) he didn’t feel he was obligated to because his lease was with the previous landlord, and B) the building was falling apart.
- The doctor claimed he’d been slandered when the landlord told one of the doctor’s employees that “You people are liars and you don’t pay your bills.”
Both sides rested on Friday, gave their final arguments this morning, and then me and my fellow jurors deliberated for about four hours until we reached our verdict this afternoon. Unfortunately for the doctor, we didn’t go for his story.
- We didn’t think he’d been slandered because he is a liar and he didn’t pay his bills — especially his rent
- We felt he didn’t pay rent not because of the building but because he was a scumbag — he was already waaaaaaaay behind on his rent when the landlord he was suing bought the building
- We felt the landlord was trying to maintain the building, because they produced dozens of work orders and checks documenting repairs to the HVAC and elevators, while the doctor couldn’t produce a copy of even a single complaint about the state of the building — but he did have copies of several letters begging for more time to pay his back rent. In fact, we figured the landlord would have spent even more money on the building if the doctor had paid his rent, because then they’d have been able to afford even more repairs.
- We felt the doctor gave probably-credible evidence of a decline in his patient visits, but produced nothing to tie that to the condition of the building. He said it was because of the building but didn’t give us anything to prove it. If he had produced even one patient saying “I stopped seeing him because of that,” well, we might have given him some money. But he didn’t. So we were left to speculate about why he might have been losing patients. My pet theory was that it was because they were dying because they were his patients and that’s why they weren’t coming back.
When we had finally voted on each of the issues before us and voted against the doctor on all of them, that’s the first time I felt kind of bad for him. Up until then, watching him in court and listening to him on the witness stand, I didn’t think very highly of him. I didn’t find him credible, I thought he was shady, I thought he was a good example of a bad doctor… I just basically didn’t believe him and didn’t like him and didn’t think he deserved a thing. But after we had decided to give him absolutely nothing and make him pay his back rent besides… Well, that’s when I felt kind of bad for him.
He had gone through all the run-up to the trial, spent money on attorney fees and expert witnesses, and basically had a lot of time and money and energy invested in this case. If he won, he was going to get a big payoff — he’d be able to wipe out his $50,000 back rent debt without paying it, and get upwards of $1,000,000 besides. But we were slapping him in the face and saying “No, no, no, and no,” and making him pony up the $50,000 too. So I felt badly for him.
When we delivered our verdict in open court, I felt even worse. He looked more and more hang-dog as the clerk read each verdict, and his head hung lower and lower. I really felt bad for the guy — his lottery ticket was a loser, and now he was on the hook for a bunch of money. I keep thinking of how he must feel at this exact moment, as I’m writing these words, sitting in his home somewhere and trying to figure out what he’s going to do next. He’s probably considering bankruptcy now, probably feeling like he’s at the end of his rope.
It humanizes him for me and I feel badly for the guy. But I don’t regret my decision, not even a little bit. I know that my fellow jurors and I did the right thing.
It’s not easy being Justice Man.