By V. J. Willis Jr.
The boldness of the criminal element in America today rivals that of even the most outwardly corrupt nations in the world. The corruption in some cases has reached its horrid cenacles deep into all three branches of government, but I really didn’t expect it would directly impact my life until that fateful day when it tapped me on the shoulder. I guess it would be more accurate to say that it tapped us on the shoulder.
Mary, my court clerk friend, and I were sitting in our favorite lunch time spot. It’s a busy little place. It’s not so crowded that you have trouble finding an empty table most of the time. It’s a casual sort of place. The wait staff and owner make it a point to introduce themselves, and they make a concerted effort to call you by name. Although there usually isn’t much interaction from table to table among the diners, you get the sense that you are among friends with the staff, making it a cozy-feeling spot. The service is pretty quick, and I’m a fan of the few tables that are placed on the oversized sidewalk just out the door. Mary and I sometimes pretend that we are sitting at a café in the center of Paris. We both dream of traveling there one day, but the chances of that happening on a civil servant salary are about as good as winning the lottery.
We were in the middle of a conversation of just that mindset, trading ideas about the typical tourist destinations we would visit on our make-believe trip, when a tall, smoothly dressed stranger pulled up an empty chair at our table. I am not of an imposing stature at 5’8”, but I’m usually not intimidated by larger men. But, this guy was at least 6’6” tall, and I would guess he was somewhere in the neighborhood of 240 lbs. Most of his bulk seemed to be purposefully developed muscle mass. He spoke at an almost whispered level, with a deep base quality that would have made a church choir director sit up and take notice. Yet there was something about his demeanor that was just slightly intimidating. As I sat there dumbfounded at the boldness of his intrusion into our lunchtime sanctuary, he seated himself and began his introduction.
“I think it would be in both your best interests to allow me a couple of minutes of your time to sit and listen to what I have to say. For our purposes, you can call me Al. I have some business to discuss that can be mutually beneficial. At the very least, I can keep you both from making a mistake that could be particularly, shall we say, unsettling for you. I work for some people whose names aren’t of concern to you, but whose interests you are about to become involved in promoting.” Just as I was about to launch into a triad about what he could do with his barely- veiled threats, Mary reached across the table and lightly touched my hand with one finger. This I recognized as her silent indication that I should forestall comment.
“Our ‘organization’ knows what you two have been up to with the jury pool. We’ve been monitoring your activities for several months, and before you bother denying the facts, you might want to take a look at these.” He split a small stack of papers that had been in an expensive briefcase into two batches and set one near each of us. As I looked down, I noticed the computer screenshots of some of more recent handiwork. I looked up at Mary to see the same look of disbelief that was permeating my entire body. Al used the impact of our disbelief as his opening to continue. “At the very least, your actions would result in the both of you being fired if certain highly placed officials were asked to check into these, shall we call them, ‘manipulations of the system’. “ He let the impact of the other possible consequences of our actions run through both our minds for a few seconds, as he laid out his demands. He looked over at me first. “Mike, you’re going to get a list of twenty-five names that you are going to send jury summons for the date on the list. Mary, you are then going to get that list from Mike. When these people show up for jury duty, you are going to get them assigned to your court, making sure that those potential jurors are going to be designated jurors one through twenty-five.” Mary and I looked at each other with the same bewildered look. How could these two actions be of any benefit to anyone? Unless Mary’s judge was involved in this, how would Al know what court would be assigned? Of course! The look of understanding washed onto Mary’s face about the same time that I came to understand.
Judges have a lot of input into which cases are assigned to them. Officially, cases are supposed to be randomly assigned, but it is widely known that judges sometimes request a case for a variety of reasons. But, what was with the list of jurors? Surely, Al didn’t expect to be able to bribe or otherwise influence all twenty-five jurors. Then all of a sudden, the strategy came to light like the sun coming from behind a cloud with a sudden burst of light. They didn’t have to control all twenty-five jurors. Really, they only needed to control one on a criminal jury. Of course, if I were in their shoes, I might try to manipulate a couple of jurors, just to be sure.
Before my thoughts could work out the rest of the scheme, Al pushed his stool back, the metal feet making a loud scraping noise on the concrete sidewalk, a smirk building on his face. He didn’t say a word. He made eye contact with both of us, picked up his briefcase, turned his back, and walked away at a casual pace, fully aware that he had command of our compliance.
Mary looked over at me, a panicked look on her face as she voiced my very thoughts, “Crap! What do we do?”
( Watch for The Jury Pool – Part 3 to see what happens with Mary and Mike next.)