A Courtroom with a View
by Chellie Campbell
I had to appear downtown Los Angeles for jury service on Tuesday, and on Wednesday was selected as a juror in a criminal case. The next day, all of us jurors trooped downtown; ready to hear the case against the young man accused of three robberies. We were kept waiting outside the courtroom for quite some time when the Court Clerk came out and told us that she couldn’t tell us anything at the moment but that “patience was a virtue.” We guessed that settlement talks were going on, and sure enough, soon afterwards we were invited into the courtroom where the judge announced that they had come to a resolution in the matter, and we were dismissed. Yay! There were sighs of relief and high-fives all around.
My friend, Patricia Guentzler of NAWBO, who just happened to be selected for the same jury, and I went outside for a bit to talk. After a few moments, Elise, the Court Clerk saw us and came over to say hello. She then told us exactly what had happened: the young man took a plea bargain of 27 years in prison.
Yikes! I thought, 27 years! That’s a bargain? I don’t think I’d last 27 days in prison…what had he been facing? Elise told us that the young man was 26 years old, had two prior convictions of armed robbery, and conviction on any one of the three robberies at gun point in the current case would have been his third strike. He was looking at 115 years in prison – a life sentence. The frail older woman sitting in the courtroom was his mother and dying of cancer – she only had 6 months to live. She didn’t want to die knowing her son was going to spend the remainder of his life in prison with no hope. If he accepted the plea bargain, she could die in peace knowing that there was hope for him to be released one day and have a better life. They were both crying.
I thought to myself, how unutterably sad, to see this young man and his mother crying over his wasted life where 27 years in prison was the best option.
The day before this, when the prospective jurors were questioned, we were all asked if we or anyone we knew had experienced violence, been burglarized, attacked or robbed. It was sobering how many people had – nearly everyone raised their hands. When I was called upon, I recited my litany: “I’ve had my car broken into 3 times, stolen once, been burglarized 3 times, been attacked in my home at 3:00 in the morning, and been robbed at gunpoint in my parking garage.”
While the judge said he was sorry that these bad things had happened to me, the retired African American gentleman with the deep chocolate voice sitting next to me leaned over and said, “With all that bad luck, I’m amazed you’re not black!” I cracked up, and we enjoyed a private little giggle over that.
The judge shook his head and commiserated that those experiences were regrettable, but asked if I could be impartial, recognizing that the defendant had nothing to do with any of them. “Of course, your honor,” I replied, “those things happened in the 70s and 80s and I don’t think he was even born yet!” There was some laughter at that, and then I said, “I don’t have these experiences anymore, because I changed my thinking.” I just had to give a little hint about the Law of Attraction, because I know the day I took responsibility for my experiences and consciously determined not to be a victim any more – and I haven’t been since that day. I mean, when you take your valuables to your sister’s house overnight because your home is being tented for termites, and she’s burglarized while you’re out for dinner and your jewelry is stolen yet again, you have to notice that the common denominator in all these experiences is you!
No one likes jury duty – we all have busy lives with a lot to do. It interferes with our plans, costs us time, money, and inconvenience. I had wanted to be excused – I had an 8-week Telecourse coming up and needed the time to enroll more people. Like many small business owners, jury duty was potentially a big hindrance to my ability to produce income. I was nervous about being put on a long trial, and I was angry about this “enforced servitude.” I imagined what I might say that would get me excused.
I was embarrassed out of that attitude fairly quickly. I watched as some prospective jurors made it clear that they were angry to be there and searching rather obviously for the “right answers” to questions that would result in them being excused. You could see the lie on their faces. Those who answered truthfully spoke scornfully of those people later.
As I listened and learned throughout the court proceedings, my attitude shifted. Judge William Sterling honored us for our service and reminded us to appreciate our great country with its guaranteed freedoms protected by our laws and trial-by-jury-of-our-peers system. I was reminded anew of what a wonderful life I have, that I am among the most fortunate people on the planet. I felt reconnected to my community, beyond just my family, friends, and business associates. I saw how narrowed my world had become in my daily life. Here, I opened up to the sea of interconnecting people from all walks of life, seen and unseen, surrounding and affecting us every day, with their millions of stories of loss, tragedy, strength, joy, and hope.
And if ever I was on trial, I would want you to show up for my jury. I would want you to be an honest, thoughtful, and caring juror. It is through the everyday actions of each citizen that our freedoms are assured and our way of life preserved. It is up to us.
Chellie Campbell is the author of bestselling books The Wealthy Spirit, Zero to Zillionaire, and most recently From Worry to Wealthy: A Woman’s Guide to Financial Success Without the Stress. She is widely quoted in major media including Redbook, Good Housekeeping and more than 50 popular books. She has been treating Money Disorders like Spending Bulimia and Income Anorexia in her Financial Stress Reduction® Workshops for over 25 years. www.chellie.com.