San Francisco Jury Duty – A True Story

Mission 14x bus to 6th and Bryant Street

Called into jury duty after deferring once. I took the Mission 14x bus to 6th and Bryant Street. On the first day the vague details and outline of the case was explained. On 6th Street and Market in front of the Baltmore Hotel a murder had taken place in 2012. A man with a gun shot another man and there was an accomplice. Both defendants were African American males around the age of 25. Both were large, dressed in button down shirts and ties. One of the defendants seemed to have at one point been beaten as one of his eyes was at an unnatural skew.

The middle aged Asian judge was a rather playful fellow who talked incessantly about food and providing a lunch of sticky buns for all the chosen jurors  and that “wasn’t it great we were not at the dentist!” He tried hard to make jokes but the humour fell a bit flat. Good thing he is a judge and not a comic. He then proceeded to demonstrate his prowess in three Chinese dialects and said that if you were Chinese American and did not understand English it was not an easy way out.

5 Spice Chicken for Lunch – Reading Time – Really Bad WIFI

During the jury selection one of the defendants lawyers went to great lengths to try to find if people had implicit bias. It was interesting to hear from the diverse potential jurists and their takes on implicit bias which lead to the discussion of racial profiling. Concepts of data and metadata as relating to phone calls was brought up and interestingly the prosecutor seemed quite naive about such concepts. Let us explain. The actual call is the data. The time, date and location of the call, which the phone company surely knows, is the metadata. There surely is more to data and metadata in this case but that is the basics.Two younger folk in the technology industry were released. A few others were released due to past histories.

Mission 14X bus to 6th and Bryant Street

A few people called as potential jurors seemed quite intelligent. A few lawyers, a retired Professor named Brown who had written a book about police conduct in Los Angeles filled the room with interesting observations.  A few people related to police officers in the case were dismissed. A funny old Latina grandmother a bit hard of hearing and maybe with a screw starting to come loose upstairs admitted that because years ago her purse was snatched by an African American see could not trust “those blacks.” At one point people laughed and she shushed them which made it even funnier. She was dismissed.

Lunch in the Park on Harrison – Rain but Some Sun

We are down to the final jurors and the alternates and the judge states that juror selection is coming to an end. It is looking like the 80 or so people left in the room will not be on the jury. I am starting to relax and thinking how cool the whole process has been – how interesting the conversations were and how nice it was going to be to be in a building that actually had ventilation. For some reason the entire wing in this part of the Hall of Justice had no air. It was hot and the air was stale – a bit sufficting really. And just when I started to think how the poor ventilation systems probably made for some interesting escape attempts from the county jail I heard “Paul Lyons” and then there I was – “In the box.” Out of all the people in the room, I was the last juror called. I picked up my bag and took my seat.

Of course there is a list of questions on the board that I had to answer – occupation, family and years in San Francisco. The first defense attorney read my answers to the questionnaire that I had filled out a week earlier.

“I find it odd that the judge seems compelled to bribe the potential jurors with promises of food. I think that jurors should be paid a fair wage for their service.”

That is all that I had written thinking that I would never be called. The room burst into laughter.  I did not realize that I had used the words “bribe” and “judge” in the same sentence – not exactly prudent.

Next, the second defense attorney started grilling me to which the prosecuting attorney for the first time actually objected to a question – “Objection Your Honor!” – that I do not now recollect. Everything started moving very fast. I do not remember my exact answers to the next questions at that point but I remember stating that “the jury process, while not perfect is a good thing and the best that we have. I played my cards very close to my chest.”

Other recent seated jurors were asked similar questions. Due to the questionnaire we had filled out a week prior, one of the questions was about the ability to be comfortable with seeing photos blood and of gruesome scenes. Paradoxically the rather tattooed and pierced woman sitting next to me stated that she was “uneasy about looking at gruesome photos of blood” but in the end confessed that she would get over it and be a willing juror and could handle it.

A few minutes later the three lawyers and the judge dismissed themselves to the chamber in back  and came out soon after to swear in the three alternates none of which were me. In other words, I was dismissed.

A truly strange, interesting but edifying experience. Time to write the judge an apology letter and thank him for his service. I will mail it to him in May, long after this trial is done.


The two men in the trial were convicted of murder. Let it be known that the jury was quite diverse. There were three black people on the jury – one a black woman over 65.  An Asian man. People of all ages. The evidence must have been clear. I read online that the San Francisco district attorney expressed that both of the men would “spend the rest of there days in jail.”

The whole thing is a sad story. Two boys born into a society where the cards were stacked against them. A stupid series of decisions. A culture of poverty, probably struggling schools, violence and revenge.  I cannot help but think that the real crime goes much deeper. It is a crime against humanity – a failure of humanity.