Forget the fact that it is essential to our democratic system. For most citizens, jury duty is something to dread and, if at all possible, avoid. Especially when the federal trial is set to take 10 weeks. During summer vacation. That was the situation facing a few hundred Marylanders who packed a courtroom in Baltimore one sunny day in June, as described in recently unsealed transcripts. Those picked for jury duty would spend the next 10 weeks in court, listening to dense financial testimony in the trial of Nathan A. Chapman, the Baltimore investment manager charged with fraud. (Chapman was convicted in August and later sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison.) Those excused would get to go home.
Recently, the judge in that case unsealed what potential jurors said to get out of the jury box. Their reasons run from convincing to absurd, from reasonable to outright disturbing. “They’ll say anything,” said Marc Rothenberg, one of Chapman’s lawyers. Take Potential Juror No. 95. U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles Jr. had told the potential jurors to tell him privately whether there were issues that could keep them from being fair. Maybe they were crime victims themselves or maybe they worked in law enforcement. The judge said, “Ninety-five, what did you want to tell me about?” “I have to tell you that I’m a vegetarian,” the juror responded. “And I’m against big government and big taxes, and I feel like I would be prejudiced against the government.”