HOPE FOR THE LITTLE GUY

My little children, I write these things to you so that you may not sin. If anyone sins, we have a Counsellor with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous. And he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2.)

Mr. Singh was the plaintiff and a foreign born citizen of India and with his green card was working here legally. He brought suit against a business owner and two private investigators.

The Plaintiff was a Foreign Born Citizen of India

At the end of the week, I was surprised to hear our judge say that the other judges in the courthouse had come to refer to our trial as “the trial from hell.” But it had been a week of surprises. The first shock came on Monday when I was selected as a juror. According to urban legend people in my profession aren’t supposed to serve as jurors. Obviously this isn’t true and I spent the next five days thinking to myself, “Boy, was I wrong.”

After the trial was over, our judge revealed that some of the other judges in the building had been taunting him throughout the week. From time to time they stuck their heads into the courtroom in order to smile mockingly at him. As the senior most judge in the county, he had assigned himself this trial.   The other judges let him know they were glad that they didn’t have to preside over this mess. We never saw that behavior ourselves, but the members of the jury did feel the tension that provoked the members of the court to consider the trial to be a visitation from hell. We were told that the lawyers trying the case had strong feelings of resentment toward one another. This was the fourth in a series of four lawsuits involving the same team of lawyers so the emotions were running high.

It must have been like pouring salt into an open wound when the defense lawyer implied again and again that the plaintiff’s lawyer had tampered with the evidence. The plaintiff’s lawyer didn’t get mad, he just got even by focusing harder and by making certain he stated the plaintiff’s case clearly and thoroughly.

CONFUSE ‘EM

Let me set out the basic facts of the case. Mr. Singh was the plaintiff, a foreign born citizen of India and with his green card was working here in the United States legally. He brought suit against his former employer and two private investigators for having him arrested on false charges. Mr. Singh is from the Sikh community and follower of the Sikh religion. His lawyer argued that as a result of his false arrest, Mr. Singh suffered emotional damages and had lost face in the Sikh community. His counsel had also presented evidence to show that his social relationships and reputation in the Sikh community had suffered because of what had happened.

Typically, the five day trial ran from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and was highly technical. At least sixty percent of the evidence and testimony dealt with how to make and secure an accurate copy of surveillance video from a computer’s hard drive. As I recall, we received testimony from six different computer technicians and specialists.

The key piece of evidence was the video from the hour that had been the basis of Mr. Singh’s original arrest. The defense team argued that while the video no longer showed Mr. Singh stealing from the store he managed, originally it had captured him stealing several cases of beer. The defense claimed that the video file had been tampered with and brought in a professional computer hacker who works for a company that manufactures processors for personal computers. Since he was a witness for the defense, it surprised me when the “hacker/expert” witness testified that this kind of surveillance equipment should not be used to chronicle employee theft. In addition, he ultimately admitted that there was no evidence that the video for the hour in question had been tampered with and that there was no evidence of video editing software ever being on the computer that was used for surveillance. After hours of testimony in these areas, the jurors suffered from mental fatigue and in my opinion could have become confused.

Throughout the week I was reminded of the old axiom that describes the lawyer’s strategy, “If the facts are on your side, then argue the facts. If the law is on your side, then argue the law. But, if neither the law nor the facts are on your side, confuse them.” I am pretty computer savvy but I kept worrying about the other jurors on the panel that they might be led astray by the confusing and contradictory information that was generated by the testimony that had been given. All week I fretted about my role as a juror, and I recognized that it would be inappropriate to introduce information that was not a part of the testimony that was presented during the trial.

HOPE IN ANSWER TO CYNICISM

In the closing arguments, the defense counsel committed a major gaff when he repeated the phrase again and again, “There is nothing special about Mr. Singh.” I thought, if there was a juror still on the fence, in that moment the defense counsel pushed him off and toward Mr. Singh’s side. Even a man without the rights that go along with citizenship in the United States is still a special person. He was special since he had a right to a trial by a jury he was given something that made him very special. He was given the right for the truth to be heard. Unfortunately, not everyone that has been treated unfairly will have his day in court or has an opportunity to see injustice corrected. But, in this case Mr. Singh did.

I am very sensitive to the issue of injustice and a person’s rights under the law. Other than a few traffic tickets and reporting stolen property and vandalism my, contact with our justice system has been limited. For the first time in my life I have been forced to see the underside of our country’s legal system firsthand. I am not talking about Mr. Singh’s trial, but I have been forced to take a closer look at our system of laws as was played out in this case and four other separate court actions (or inactions). These things include court action to prosecute a man who a year ago at random attacked my son and almost beat him to death; a friend’s son who is in prison for ten years for behavior that a police officer and a former governor committed without suffering any consequence; a couple from Great Brittan who in my opinion are being harassed and defrauded by a nearby municipality since they can’t afford adequate legal help; and the injustice of our legal system that penalizes those who have broken the law, but who are sabotaged by the system from getting their lives back on track. Let me explain.

I have seen how nonsensical our justice system can be since I have started working with people who have been through our penal system. Committing a felony in the United States produces the consequence that on the one hand the felon can’t get a job, but on the other hand, he must pay thousands of dollars in fines. A felon has limited access to housing, medical services, dental services (some dentists charge up to 4 to 5 times more for procedures performed on undesirable patients), and competent professional legal help (in addition to penalties felons have to pay their lawyer again and again). A poor person who commits a crime will spend the rest of his life just trying to get back to the starting point where his life spiraled downward out of control, and it is doubtful if he ever will. It’s easy to understand why so many turn again to criminal activity. I do not have a solution, and I know that with all of its problems, our system of justice is still one of the best legal systems in the world.

In the end, because of my fellow jurors, I found reason for hope. When the jury panel was finally dismissed on Friday in order to deliberate, I asked the jury a series of simple questions: “First, do you have a definite opinion about the testimony that you received?” All of the jurors indicated that they had a definite opinion — they weren’t confused about what to believe. Second, “Do you believe that the video tape was tampered with?” All of the jurors indicated that there was no evidence that the video had been tampered with. Third, “Do you believe that Mr. Singh had been arrested falsely?” Again, all of the jurors were unanimous in their conviction that Mr. Singh had been arrested falsely and they believed that the original arrest grew out of a situation involving mistaken identity (the jurors confirmed what the district attorney had already determined). Finally I asked, “Do you believe that Mr. Singh had suffered injury that warranted compensation?” Even on this the jurors were unanimous. I was amazed. After a weeklong snow job by the defense there was no need to revisit the technical intricacies of the expert testimony. At that point it was the jury’s responsibility to consider the question of whether compensation would be appropriate and if it was appropriate how much should the plaintiff receive? (The jury awarded Mr. Singh over $200,000.00 in damages.)

LESSONS TO BE LEARNED

There are a couple of things I want you to think about from this experience: First, this whole episode gives reason for hope — hope for the little guy. In spite of the defense lawyer’s claim that there was nothing special about Mr. Singh, he was wrong. Mr. Singh was one of us. Even if he was not a citizen of the United States, he had a right to a trial with a jury of his peers. Mr. Singh wasn’t seeking some special right,  he was seeking to keep his rights from being tossed aside and trampled upon. The jury panel didn’t have any representatives of a minority group or anyone with Mr. Singh’s background. The twelve person jury was made up of a few business owners, a nursing student, a retired teacher’s aide, a mechanic, a childcare worker, a fitness instructor, a truck driver, a pastor, etc. There was nothing special about us either. Even though I have grown cynical about the inequities in our country’s legal system after what happened on that Friday afternoon my hope was soaring. What impressed me was that some common Americans (strangers to each other) were thrown together in a room, and they could see through all of the attempts to deceive and confuse them about the truth.

People make a mistake about America. They hate our government and then take it out on our people — our country’s ordinary citizens. Don’t you understand? We’re a lot like you. In fact the people in America came from all over the world.

The jury represents the pulse and heart of this country. The lesson here is that at times even the little guy — the weak and vulnerable — will have the truth come out and have opportunity for an injustice he has suffered to be corrected. There is hope for the little guy — the person who seems to have no voice.

Finally, I am a Christian and I believe that there is a spiritual lesson here that is to be learned and remembered. When the Bible tells us in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,” it is saying that we are all in the same position. We are all vulnerable and in need of help. We are the little guy. Unless someone comes to our aide, we have no voice and we have no hope. We have a death sentence that hangs over our heads.  Scripture tells us, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23.) This verse speaks of our spiritual condition: we are separated from God by our sin. We are spiritually dead.

After the trial, I happened to run into Mr. Singh’s lawyer outside of the court house. Several years ago he had been our city’s mayor. I teased him and observed that I had never voted for him. Then I told him, “But, you are one fine trial lawyer.” If I ever needed a lawyer, he would be the first person that I would ask to represent me.

However, don’t just think about these things on an earthly plain alone. Don’t be confused and distracted for someday you will pass from this life into eternity. When it comes to the issue of judgment in the world to come, I want you to consider the best Advocate of all. Looking at what lies ahead you and I need the Lord on our side. We need the Lord to represent us and to present our case. Romans 8:31-33 offers this hope to those that have trusted Jesus Christ as their Savior: “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.” This promise becomes effective in our lives when we trust Christ as Savior and He becomes our Advocate. He is the One that saves and keeps us and Romans 8:34 further confirms this hope, “Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” I tell you there is hope for the little guy like you and me.

(Copyright, Keith Churilla, 2011.)

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Also by this author: The Armor of Light Bible Study & Planner

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