Tuesday, June 16, 2015

They cut down my trees!

It's deja vu.

When I moved into my downtown condo about 20 years ago, one of its pleasures was a big magnolia tree that lifted its white blossoms up just outside my deck. I loved it. One day, I came home and found a memo from the management company saying they were going to remove it. I tried to save my tree, but it was doomed. The construction of the condo complex included underground parking, which meant that the green lawn outside my windows was actually in a gigantic flowerpot. The tree had become too big and too heavy for its artificial underground. It came down and was replaced by spindly dogwoods that didn't come up to where I could see them without leaning over the railing. I had moved in, I had fallen into arboreal love, and I had lost my beloved.

When I moved here, I fell in love again, with a mini-grove of big-leaf maples growing out of the steep bank opposite my window. The way the big, floppy leaves moved in the wind, the colors they presented in spring (hopeful light green) and summer (earnest dark green) and fall (gleaming yellow turning brown), the shade beneath the branches, the seeds helicoptering down, I felt I could watch those trees endlessly and feel my soul renewed by their beauty.

And all that's left is a few stumps six inches tall and maybe two inches across sticking up through the diamond-patterned fencing set against the hillside to protect cars from rockfalls. I understand why it had to happen. For all the beauty aboveground, below the trunks and branches and leaves, the tree roots were slowly tearing the hillside apart. Eventually, inevitably, my trees would have brought several tons of basalt down onto the driveway and against the side of the building, maybe tossing a few random rocks high enough to crack my windows, certainly caving in the walls of my neighbors below.

I understand that. But my trees are gone. The understanding is in my head, the mourning is in my heart and is not comforted.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

More on jury duty: lawyers

The contrast between the two lawyers was very striking. One clearly knew exactly how to conduct a trial like the one my jury heard, the other was equally clearly thrashing about. Summarizing the two cases:

Plaintiff: there was a rear-end collision*, defendant's car at the rear of plaintiff's car. Plaintiff has been getting medical and chiropractic treatment for three years for debilitating headaches that began after the collision. Plaintiff is a good woman who traveled to Indonesia to help people struck by the tsunami (work she can no longer do). She is well thought of by her neighbors, co-workers, and fellow church members.

In support of this case, plaintiff's lawyer took us through the plaintiff's extensive medical treatments at least four times in considerable detail. Aside from character witnesses, he presented the plaintiff herself, who was very nervous on the stand; her chiropractor; and an accident reconstruction expert who basically agreed with defense's accident reconstruction expert except for saying plaintiff's head could have suffered significant forces, even though the collision was only at about 7 mph. At times, plaintiff's lawyer seemed to be drawing out his witnesses' testimony by asking minimally relevant, repetitive questions while frequently checking the courtroom clock. He made at least one egregious error: cross-examining the defendant, accusing him of an inconsistency between his deposition and his testimony, dramatically handing him a transcript of the deposition and challenging him to show otherwise. Defendant examined the transcript on the stand and found the material the lawyer had said wasn't there, Oops.

Defendant: while defendant admits the fact of the collision, well-credentialed experts in accident reconstruction, human biomechanics, and neurology say the impact of that collision could not have caused the symptoms plaintiff suffers.  Defendant's lawyer was at all times courteous, professional, and on-point. I don't believe he cross-examined plaintiff at all, which got him points from me, because she seemed so anxious. He didn't need to emphasize points in testimony that supported his side, apparently believing that we, the jury, would understand what was being said without his having to repeat or simplify the information. I had to wonder whether he, the lawyer, was hired by defendant's insurance company.

In a way, the whole thing was scary. If you have the better lawyer, you have a much better chance of prevailing in court. That should be obvious, but seeing it in action adds color and depth. Before this trial, I would have thought of a "good" lawyer as one who reminded me of Perry Mason. Now I see that it's not melodramatics, it's having control of the material of the case and presenting that material in a clear, concise, consistent manner that creates trust and credibility.

*The facts of the case: both plaintiff and defendant were stopped at a red light. Light turned green, both began to drive forward. Plaintiff saw an ambulance approaching on the cross-street, stopped at mid-intersection. Defendant, immediately behind her, was looking elsewhere, was unable to stop before colliding with the rear of plaintiff's car. Damage to both cars was minimal, judging by the repair estimates.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Adventures 2: Jury Duty

In order to savor the joys of jury duty, one needs to be patient. Very patient.

We are, after all, dealing with a government bureaucracy here. And jurors are needed in the process at unpredictable times and for unpredictable durations.They need to be kept available so they can be "turned on" when needed and "turned off" when not.

The courthouse did its best. It was air-conditioned (mostly: on the afternoon of the second day, the air conditioning in the courtroom stopped conditioning the air. It was in the high 80s outdoors, and the courtroom got so hot that the judge removed her black robe and told the lawyers they could remove their suitcoats. Plaintiff's lawyer did, defendant's lawyer did not.) Chairs in the juror assembly room where we waited to be assigned to cases were really comfortable. They had been paid for out of a fund comprising jury duty fees that jurors had donated for such purposes. Once we got checked in initially, we usually got to go through security checks with court employees, a much shorter line than the public checkpoint.

But, inevitably, there is a lot of waiting involved. Most people read or played with their phones. (Complimentary wifi provided in the courthouse.) A few brought hand-work that could survive the security check (only circular knitting needles or crochet hooks allowed). A different few simply stared into space, a choice which marked them tentatively as saints, philosophers, poets, or sufferers of insomnia or mental illness, populations frequently confused with one another. Eventually, nothing really worked to distract any of us from the boredom of sitting around waiting to be called, and small, directionless conversations began, faltered, died out, reignited in different configurations.

Once I got onto a specific jury, the greatest frustration was not waiting but keeping quiet. Here I was, one of thirteen (twelve and an alternate) people who were listening to the same experts and the same character witnesses and the same lawyerly rhetoric, but we were forbidden to talk about it among ourselves, to research it on the web, even to ride down in the same elevator with the lawyers lest our considerations be warped by a too-friendly "nice weather today". Fighting the natural impulse to say, "What did you think about the ..." was a real struggle for me, and I'm not all that sociable under general circumstances. When testimony was finally wrapped up and closing arguments were complete, and we got into the jury room with the door closed behind us, everybody wanted to talk, as if we had been silently inhaling information for three days and needed at last to exhale a bit.

To my amazement, most of us agreed immediately to find for the defendant. We went around the table so everyone could get a chance to say his/her piece, and by the time it got to me, I could just have said "Ditto". But instead I went off babbling about the rhetorical fallacy "post hoc, ergo proper hoc", where someone asserts that something that happens first must be the cause of something that happens second, which was basically the plaintiff's case. I guess I really did need to talk.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Adventures 1

So I got called to jury duty.

In Oregon, you can get out of jury duty if you're over 70. I will shortly turn 72, but I haven't done jury duty in decades, and recently, when I went to watch a lawyer friend do his thing in court, I found it interesting, so I sent in my form saying I'd do it.

Portland is the county seat of the county I live in, Multnomah County, and downtown parking is difficult at best, particularly for all-day parking in the center of downtown, where the county courthouse is. So, for the first time in a very long time, I took the bus.

This should not be something to brag about. I'm an Oregonian, I should consider taking mass transit to be an expression of my innermost soul. But, well, I don't. Until this week. Given the choice of paying $10 or $12 for parking after fighting traffic both ways, and hopping aboard a city bus that stops less than 500 feet from my apartment, I chose the bus.

Tickets on TriMet are $1 for 2.5 hours for an "Honored Citizens" (I do wish they would just say "Old People" and be done with it). Turns out I can order a handful of them on my phone, activate them one at a time with a touch, briefly flash my phone at the bus driver, and voila! I'm a valid bus passenger.

Which I didn't need to be for very long. A 5-minute ride got me to a stop two blocks from the courthouse. Dismounting was a small challenge -- my knees don't bend as well as they used to -- but other than that, riding mass transit was a breeze.

But the pleasures of bus-riding pale in comparison to the pleasures of jury duty. No, really. To be continued.