I had high hopes. I was #71 in the jury pool at the George L. Allen, Sr. Courts Building; I don’t think I’ve ever been under #275 before. I had snagged the best possible seat in the jury room: far side, aisle seat, wide exit row so no need to ever stand, restrooms directly out the door to my left, and, best of all, right beside the only electrical outlet in the room. My mistake was sitting in front of the guy with tuberculosis.
As expected, I was in the first group to be called up. I picked up my juror badge and headed for the elevators, up to the fifth floor and the 68th Judicial District Court, Hon. Martin Hoffman presiding.
The bailiff placed us all in numerical order (by this point, thanks to no-shows, I had moved up to #18), and we filed into the courtroom. I looked around at what seemed to be a surprisingly diverse cross-section of Dallas humanity. Aged from 20s to 60s. African American, Hispanic, Caucasian, Indian, Vietnamese. Women and men. Balding and wigged. One wide-brimmed straw hat.
Judge Hoffman started with some inspirational quotes by Jefferson and Adams and the Pledge of Allegiance, and then there was a little bit of a stand-up routine about his sister’s social media account before voir dire began, or, as they say in Texas, “vore dire.” It’s a French term meaning “to see to speak.” Lawyers ask questions to get to know the potential jurors and weed out the crazies and the ones who won’t side with their clients, and they take the opportunity to start selling their cases to the jury. I love this part, but it’s the furthest I’ve ever gotten. Today I was going to make it to the box.
The gist of the case became pretty clear pretty fast. The Plaintiffs were a Vietnamese American couple who had a nail salon near NorthPark. Their lease renewed in five-year increments, and they had renewed it twice before. This time they had some sort of oral exchange with the property manager, which allegedly led them to believe that the written lease could be submitted after the deadline in the lease agreement. The deadline wasn’t met, the property manager refused to renew, and the couple had to pack up their business and move elsewhere.
The initial questions by the Plaintiffs’ attorneys were obvious ones. Anyone have a bad experience with a nail salon? Anyone have a bias against immigrants? The answers were somewhat surprising. A number of ladies raised their juror cards to say that they had had terrible experiences with their nail salons: infections, 45-minute waits for appointments. But almost to a one, they said they had addressed their concerns directly with management and continued to be loyal customers. And although there was one self-avowed immigrant in the bunch, a man who had emigrated from Mexico in 1991 and had taught himself impeccable English and now ran his own mechanic business, it was a number of white jurors who waved their cards to announce that they felt that, if the couple had any difficulties with English or cultural differences, the property manager owed them extra deference.
The Plaintiffs’ attorney got to me first. “Have you ever been a landlord or have you ever had any experience that might bias you in this matter?”
“No, but I was a landlord-tenant attorney for five years and taught landlord-tenant law.”
The Defendants’ attorney came back to me later.
“So, I see you’re the executive editor at D Magazine?”
“Can you tell me why I wasn’t included in the Best Lawyers list last year?”
“Nominations are made by attorneys, so you may need to make more friends.”
I wasn’t picked.