Jury Duty

24 Feb

by Andrea Kelton

A few weeks after I was diagnosed with uveitis, my inner eye inflammation flared up. Blurry vision made driving impossible.  I sat at the dining room table considering whether or not to go on health leave, when the mailman delivered my answer.  My first jury duty summons.  Problem temporarily solved.  I couldn’t teach on Monday. I had to perform my civic duty.

I rode the Gratiot bus downtown to Detroit’s Frank Murphy Hall of Justice.  My group of prospective jurors entered a courtroom where the judge informed us that this eminent domain case might last three to four weeks.

That was fine with me. By that time the steroids would work their magic and I could return to teaching.  I answered questions from several attorneys and was directed to take a seat in the jury box.

Thirteen similar cases were combined into one trial. The first attorney, a young man wearing a rumpled brown suit, represented the New Cherry Bar.  His courtroom delivery reminded me of TV”s disheveled cop, Colombo. “Not only has the city condemned my client’s property to make way for a senior citizen high rise,” he said, speaking directly to the jury.  ‘But the city has not offered my client fair compensation.”  To emphasize this point, he presented an expert witness.  A realtor confirmed that the three most important factors in determining a property’s value are “Location, location, location.”

That testimony prompted the judge to call for a recess until the court could be driven to see the properties first hand. The next day we all piled into vans and drove to one of Detroit’s most neglected neighborhoods.  A sign nailed to a seedy structure read New Cherry Bar.  The other properties were just as dilapidated.  I thought the city’s offers were fair.

Our jury bonded over the hours we spent together while the lawyers negotiated deals. A woman juror introduced me to Shaklee products and the concept of food and supplements as medicine.  One day, I’d baked a cake for the judge’s birthday and he joined us for a slice.

The Pekin Pavilion’s impeccably dressed attorney chose to try his case before the jury. He wore the most luxurious suit I’d ever seen.  With a flare for the dramatic, he presented his star witness.  An elderly Chinese man took the stand.  His client, the family patriarch and restaurant founder, only spoke Mandarin.  After complicated legal wrangling, the court allowed the owner’s granddaughter to serve as interpreter.  That cumbersome testimony entertained us all afternoon.

After 3 ½ weeks, the judge gave us our instructions. We were to consider the value of the property.  Nothing else.  Not the business interruption.  Not the furnishings.  Just the fair market value of the property.

The majority of our jury didn’t heed the judge’s orders. We paid Pekin Pavilion twice the amount they’d asked for!  The look on their attorney’s face was as priceless as his attire.

A few years later, I saw a local TV news story on the redevelopment of Jefferson Avenue. Featured was the million dollar New Pekin Pavilion.  I’m not 100% sure, but I think the elderly owner gave his interview in English.

 

Andrea Kelton received her uveitis diagnosis in 1974. She recently retired after 37 years as a highly valued teacher.  Andrea attends a weekly memoir writing class, “Me, Myself and I” taught by author, Beth Finke.

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