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Vanishing juries

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Vanishing juries

I thoroughly enjoyed your article, “The Vanishing Jury.” It is a sad but true story.

Trial by a randomly selected jury is the essence of government reposed in the people. As Thomas Jefferson wrote Thomas Paine in 1789:

“The right to trial by jury is the only instrument ever devised by humans to hold a government to its constitutional principles.”

We in the United States have the best justice system in the world. In fact, I believe we have the best justice system that there has ever been in the world – primarily because parties, corporations as well as individuals, have the right to trial by a randomly selected jury.

Let me hasten to add, however, that I do not oppose voluntary mediation or arbitration. To the contrary, I support it. Abraham Lincoln admonished lawyers to encourage settlement. In the vast majority of cases, a reasonable settlement is a good thing. On the other hand, there are some cases that need to be tried – some rights that demand vindication by the consensus of the people (a trial by jury).

Politicians and others who disparage the jury seem to forget that a jury is a cross-section of the people who elect officials to office. Are the voters (jurors) devoid of good sense in the jury box, but wise when electing their representatives?

Again, I emphasize that I am opposed only to mandatory arbitration or mediation, whether it is forced by the legislature, courts or “adhesion” (one-sided contracts).

I am happy to report that U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Eisele of the Eastern District of Arkansas led the charge in the '90s that cut short the efforts of Congress to impose these mandatory measures on federal courts.

Judges deserve a lot of blame for the vanishing jury trial. Too many of them have had no real experience with jury trials, and don't like them (too many judges who have had jury trial experience have this same proclivity). Too many judges get irritated if the parties don't settle. These judges should be reminded that the word “judge” is a verb as well as a noun.

Federal Judge William R. Wilson Jr.

Little Rock

At the clinic

I got the privilege to volunteer for the National Association of Free Clinic's free health clinic held Nov. 21 in Little Rock. Most people know the figures by now: 1,000-plus patients seen, 7 sent to the emergency room, 1,200 volunteers, and 90 percent of patients diagnosed with a life threatening disease. What people don't know is the human story. My job was as a patient escort — to walk each patient to the waiting area. So I took the time to engage each patient to tell their story. Contrary to what the GOP would have you believe, most were employed working more than one job, worked for a small company that can't afford to provide benefits, had just been laid off, were self employed, or were unemployed and looking for work. These were not people looking for a handout. They are hard-working Americans looking for health care. All were so thankful they had the opportunity to come.

During the course of the day, we received word that Senator Lincoln had voted to send the health care bill to the floor but in the same breath, assured us she would vote for no public option. How can she say this when so many people in Arkansas have no health care? Shame on her for not listening to her constituents!

It is unbelievable to me that the greatest nation on this earth, the United States of America, has allowed this to happen. It is truly shameful. How can we as a nation be so blind and uncaring? It is time for us to wake up. The bill in the Senate will probably get so watered down that it may not help as many people as it could but at least it is a start. What really needs to happen is to provide Medicare for all people in the U.S. You can call it socialized medicine if you want but it is really health care for all. I have family in Great Britain, one of whom is a nurse. They love their health care. Their doctors even make house calls.

Diane Bunten

Little Rock

The Graffiti's incident

Ernest Dumas wrote regarding an incident at Little Rock's Graffiti's restaurant. Several Little Rock women, the article reported, spotted Congressman Vic Snyder and his wife Betsy across the room and confronted him as the couple was having dinner. Congressman Snyder had just voted for the House version of the health care reform legislation and the women, led by Janet Davis, went to his table to express their anger at his vote.

Janet Davis is the wife of Dr. Glenn Davis. They live in one of Little Rock's most ritzy neighborhoods and have been constant supporters of Congressman Snyder's past Republican opponents.

Congressman Snyder is an Arkansas treasure. Never once in his years of service has there ever been a hint of scandal or compromise of his integrity. He is both a graduate of our law school and our medical school. He is a veteran of the Vietnam War and personifies what public service is all about. He is constantly traveling back to his Central Arkansas Congressional District to visit with and listen to his constituents. He is a humble, tireless worker for our state and represents the highest ideals of our country. His value system is impeccable. His wife Betsy is an ordained Methodist minister whose life probably touches more uninsured people in a day than Janet Davis sees in a year.

The attack by Janet Davis and her friends was followed by her e-mail, gloating as to how they had publicly taken on the Snyders while they were trying to enjoy a peaceful meal. Real bravery. People like Janet Davis have a sense of entitlement that finds expression when their own hatred overcomes reason and civility.

It is probable that Janet Davis and her friends are Republicans, especially since the Davis family were soon to be hosting a fund-raiser for Tim Griffin, the young Karl Rove protege who is challenging Vic Snyder in his re-election bid. But this episode is not so much about Republican or Democratic politics as it is about respect and common courtesy.

Janet Davis and friends evidently feel they had their fun on their night out by publicly thrashing Congressman Snyder and his wife. It is difficult to imagine Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush practicing such incivility and cowardice.

Their actions were crude and vicious. They owe a public apology to Vic Snyder and Betsy Singleton.

Valerie Wingert

Little Rock

 

I can hardly describe how saddened I was when I read Ernest Dumas' article describing the hatred being displayed about the health care bill. The behavior of the women involved in this attack on our Congressman Vic Snyder and his wife, Rev. Betsy Singleton, is far beyond the bounds of civil behavior, even among people who strongly disagree. And then for the doctor's wife to go on the Internet and brag about it is inconceivable.

Thank you, Ernie Dumas, for giving voice to what is happening in this ridiculous debacle called health care debate.

Jo DeWitt

Little Rock

Will Phillips' pledge

I saw Will Phillips of West Fork on CNN and then read the story about him in the Arkansas Times. I have a special reason for supporting his unwillingness to repeat the Pledge of Allegiance.

I am a 76-year-old retired African-American minister. I was born in North Carolina and spent my teen-age years in Texas. The schools I attended were racially segregated and I did not sit in a classroom with persons other than black persons until I was in seminary in Boston. Every time we repeated the Pledge of Allegiance in school, I had great difficulty repeating the words “with liberty and justice for all.” My experience as a black person was not an experience of liberty and justice for me and those like me. I applaud Will for the stand he has taken and for the support he has received from his family.

Today, I too am a supporter of the right of same gender persons to marry. I remember when there were laws against interracial marriage. Some of the same reasons once used to justify denying interracial marriage are now being used to deny gay persons the right to marry. Marriage is a civil right and not a religious right. Just as there are religious arguments against same-gender marriage, there were religious arguments against the marriage of persons of different races. But, either we believe in the Constitution or we don't. Equality and equal access are as American as apple pie.

Thanks Will for your stand. There will come a time when the resistance to the marriage of two persons of the same gender will have disappeared, just as most persons no longer oppose interracial marriage. My wife and I have been married for 52 years and giving persons of the same gender the right to marry will not harm my marriage.

Gilbert H. Caldwell

Asbury Park, N.J.

 

Thank you for reporting that story on Will Phillips, the young man who is smart enough to see that not everyone has the rights, justice, and liberty that are assumed by the Pledge. I am so impressed that he critically analyzed this and realized the hypocrisy. I am proud of his parents for allowing their son to grow and be a beacon of hope for the rest of us.

Kara Kavanagh

Atlanta

 

I am now almost 67 years old, and when I was 10, I refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance myself. I refused because I had been reading and studying World War II. I read about how the Nazis made people swear allegiance to Hitler. I told my teacher I would not swear myself to any flag, government or a group of men running a government.

Like the young boy in West Fork I was sent to the office, and the principal called my dad, who served in Europe and the Pacific during World War II, and he told the school that if I felt that way it was OK with him. To this day I will stand at attention during the National Anthem but will not swear to God my allegiance to a flag or any political government.

Vernon Gomez

Austin, Texas

 

Although I am not gay, I am a veteran of 35 years military service and must support Will's constitutional right to abstain from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

In the 1940s the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a West Virginia school boy's right not to say the pledge stating that, “Patriotism cannot be forced ...”

For a teacher and/or students to pick on him because of his decision is harassment. Our Constitution gives us the right to disagree. Students and school officials have the right to disagree with the boy, but they do not have the right to harass him over his decision.

The teacher should apologize and teach her class about respecting the rights of others and about our Constitution.

John R. Manasco (Army, ret.)

Cordova, Tenn.

 

Will Phillips has every reason to feel that gays are treated unfairly by not being permitted to marry. However, his protestation at reciting the pledge demonstrates a fundamental misreading and misinterpretation of the Pledge. The Pledge does not state that America is a place of liberty and justice from day one — ideals that somehow arrived gift-wrapped on Independence Day and are guaranteed to all Americans. The Pledge is, in fact, a promise that the orator will strive for those ideals that the flag represents.

Thus, young Mr. Phillips is actually stating that he refuses to strive for the very ideals he claims to believe in. The article's author, Mr. Koon, therefore incorrectly states that “Somewhere, Thomas Jefferson smiles.” Jefferson would likely be very angry at the narrow reading of the text.

Aaron Hewitt

Santa Monica

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