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Potomac Confidential

Marc Fisher
Post Metro Columnist
Thursday, January 27, 2005; 12:00 PM

Potomac Confidential fills the midday lull with discussion of the latest news and a rigorous slicing and dicing of the issues that define who we are and where we live.

This Week's Columns:Three Weeks Of Trial by Jury Duty (Post, Jan. 27)

Marc Fisher (The Washington Post)

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Even in Virginia, Cameras' Value Readily Apparent (Post, Jan. 25)

In his weekly show, Washington Post Metro columnist Marc Fisher veers wildly from serious probing to silly prattle, and is open to topics local, national, personal and more.

A transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Marc Fisher: Welcome aboard, folks, coming to you today from lovely Annapolis, where Gov. Bobby Haircut will momentarily begin his State of the State address and where thousands of anti-gay marriage demonstrators will stand in the cold through this afternoon.
More on all that coming in the column, but first, thanks to all of you who asked after Potomac Confidential during my three-week jury adventure. The trial is over--today's column looks at that experience--and we're back here together.
On to your many questions and comments, but first, it's the Yay and Nay of the Day:
Yay to the combined political forces of Virginia, Maryland and the District for coming together in protest of the Bush Administration's cynical decision to stick D.C. with the bill for the ludicrous display of security at last week's inauguration. The decision to make the city spend Homeland Security money on that revealed the truly political roots of our Homeland Security hysteria. Will the city get reimbursed? Don't hold your breath.
Nay to the Washington Nationals and Ticketmaster for botching the allocation of seats at RFK Stadium. The many thousands of diehard fans who are coughing up big bucks for season tickets have been astonished and saddened this week to find that many of them are getting some pretty lousy seats while a thousand or so VIPs get prime real estate. On one hand, this is a powerful sign of the Nats' quick success, as pent-up demand for baseball translates into a sell-out of the entire lower bowl of the stadium. But the team could have handled this much more smoothly, making it clear to applicants that they would not be getting the better seats. And the VIP move is just shameful.
The Pick Story of the Week is the writing of Marjorie Williams, the Post columnist who died last week after a long campaign against cancer. You can read some of her columns at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/opinion/columns/williamsmarjorie/
Your turn starts now....

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Washington, D.C.: Even if I don't always agree with you, I like your chats. Too few people in the media commenting thoughtfully on DC affairs.
I can only support fully your comments today on jury selection. In the last decade or so, I've been called for jury duty six times and have never served on a jury. Once I had a connection with the case and some other times, they just didn't need all those called that day. But several times I was on a panel, seated in the jury box, and then dismissed for no reason. Judging by your experience, maybe I should be grateful, but if they don't want middle-aged, middle-class white guys, why don't they just not call us in the first place. It seems to me that the peremptory challenge system is way over used. If we're going to have a jury system for so many trials, they should essentially choose the first 12 people through the door, as long as they have no personal bias or connection with the case.

Marc Fisher: I'm with you--real jury reform would cut way back on lawyers' ability to use strikes to mold the jury according to their racial and other stereotypes. There really is no way to police the current rules effectively. A lawyer can always deny that race is the reason for tossing someone off, and how can anyone prove otherwise? The deep cynicism and overt racism of the current approach sends the wrong message to nearly everyone in the jury pool.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi, Marc. I'm a white female who has served on several DC juries over the years. Apparently we are more acceptable to criminal defense attorneys than are white males because of our "maternal instincts."

In any event, I am happy to say that my experiences were much less frustrating than yours was. Trials almost always ran from 10 a.m. -- even 9 a.m. on occasion -- until 4:30 or 5 p.m. The one time a judge ended testimony at 2:00 on a Friday, he explained that he had to fly out of town to his daughter's wedding. The courtroom and jury gave him a round of applause for that one.

However, back when jurors served 2 weeks rather than one day/one trial, a well-dressed, well-coiffed 50-60 y.o. white woman became increasingly frustrated that she was never chosen for a jury. Insiders told her to dress down a bit, try a softer hairdo to increase her chances. I think this was in 1984, when long hair and no makeup were considered signs of possible sympathy to criminal defendants. I don't know if she tried it or if it worked. Like you, my experience has been that juries try hard to do the right thing, regardless of their composition.

Marc Fisher: Sounds like you had a much more efficient judge, and there certainly are quite a few of them.
The folklore that lawyers use to make their peremptory strikes is nothing short of ludicrous--white women are soft on crime because they are naive and maternal, black women go easy on bad guys because they don't want to see more men put in jail and other such nonsense. Sure, there are people who harbor those views, but there are also plenty of folks who fit those demographic categories and act entirely another way. My jury was proof of that--people of every class and race and profession, with very different attitudes toward crime, all coming to the same considered conclusion. It was quite inspiring, really.

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Salisbury, Md.: Hi, Marc. Can I ask if you were paid by the Post during your 3 weeks of jury service? Many employers, esp. small employers, cannot afford to pay, so jurors have to use vacation time and/or take LWOP for the duration of the trial. The small daily stipend ($25?) does not come close to replacing even a minimum-wage salary.

A few years ago I as summoned to serve as a juror for the U.S. district Court in Baltimore. I had to report every Monday and assorted other days for 2 months! I was a juror on two trials, both of which lasted 3 days.

Because I lived so far from the court, I received overnight lodging on top of the minor per diem. I was not working at the time, and my two children were in high school. Even so, this wreaked havoc in my life; and it was much worse for those who were working, or had young children or other obligations. Rather than feeling proud of myself for having performed my civic duty, I was just glad it was over.

Marc Fisher: The Post paid me while I was on jury duty, but I was also coming in to work every day for five hours or so after court let out for the afternoon. A number of people on my jury faced real hardships because they are self-employed and every day away from work was a day without pay. The daily stipend--$4--is just silly. It doesn't cover parking or even Metro fares, let alone lunch.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Your article today on jury duty intrigued me. I am African-American living in Montgomery County, and I am scheduled to serve soon. I know that a lot is made out of the voir dire process and excluding one race/sex/creed/social strata or another in seating a jury, but don't minorities owe it to the process to be there and serve when called. There are too many well-educated, well-intentioned African-Americans, women and other minorities eligible to serve. If a better percentage showed up for duty, wouldn't the chances of all of them being excused be less?

Marc Fisher: I don't know that I see this as a particular duty among black Americans, because lawyers use strikes to achieve their own personal version of racial cleansing against any and all races. Defense and prosecution lawyers each have their own set of beliefs about who is more sympathetic. But I agree that everyone should show up, in part because it's actually quite fascinating and inspiring, and in part because it's one of the few duties of citizenship, and it makes for a very strong system.

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Why do all the black kids sit together in the cafeteria?: When you noticed the jurors had self-segregated based on race, did you get up and join the black jurors? Gandhi said something about being the change you want to see in the world.

Marc Fisher: Excellent question. I was the first one into the jurors' cafeteria, sat down, and found to my discomfort that the other whites joined me, while the blacks chose another table. By the time the pattern had developed, moving to the other table would have been an overt act--of political statement, yes, but also of rudeness to those I was sitting with. So I chose the path of least resistance. I--and the other juror I spoke to about this--felt uncomfortable about that decision, but not uncomfortable enough to do anything about it. So we were indeed all culpable.

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Logan Circle, Washington, D.C. : Marc,

Welcome back! Thanks for your column on jury duty. I especially liked the closing remark, where you commented on the segregation that still afflicts this city. I just wanted to add another dimension -- that of a mixed couple. Although most city-ites are indifferent to my husband (white) and me, we have had our share of awkward experiences during out tenure in the city, mostly in the form of hostility toward him. Add to this issue the way tourists react to us, and we could serve as a two-person sociological survey.

To be fair, despite the fact we don't always feel welcome in the city, we know we are not welcome in the 'burbs. Therefore, we will stay in the city. Go Nats!

Marc Fisher: What was most striking to me--prior to that moment in the cafeteria--was how well the jury had gotten along, across racial, but even more impressive, across class lines. We all learned a good deal about the conduct and stresses of each other's lives, and there were some powerful and uncomfortable gulfs, especially when mothers spoke about the child care issues in their lives. Yet there was also common ground, even between a mother complaining about finding good child care and a mother who has no choice but to leave her kids at home by themselves after school.

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Washington, D.C.: Marc,

I'm having a bummer day in DC. Housing prices in a good school district (and prices for things here in general) are astronomical, METRO hasn't been on time on my line all month, bureaucracy at government job is giving me an ulcer this morning and I'm just about ready to pack it in and head out. Can you say anything to lift my spirits? I thought of the Nationals coming this spring and that did brighten my mood a little...

Marc Fisher: Yes: Do what you are called to do. Pack it in and head out. It's cold out, but a beautiful day for a long walk along the river or the canal. You can always say you were feeling ill.
And yes, the Nats are coming. No matter how bad the seats--and mine are really, really bad--it will be baseball under the stars in the summertime in the city. How good is that?

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K Street, Washington, D.C.: The Nats' season ticket holders need to get over it. The reason they have a team in the first place is because MLB wanted to harvest the huge amount of VIPs in this area, so as to protect their antitrust protection. MLB watched the past four years, and learned well.

Marc Fisher: Well, not quite. No team lives off its VIPs. Baseball is not football. Baseball is a daily game and it depends greatly on the average folks who pay $7 a ticket for upper deck seats. Owners who confuse baseball with football and other elite sports find themselves losing a ton of money.

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Washington, D.C.: Isn't the progressive lockdown of the area around the White House getting ridiculous? I understood the need to close down Pennsylvania Ave. to traffic years ago, and I guess I can see why they closed down the walkway that goes between the White House and the OEOB after 9/11 (even though a great view of the West Wing is now apparently lost forever). But why are the sidewalks next to the Treasury Department and OEOB off-limits? Why have they extended the security checkpoint to get into the White House beyond the gates by several dozen yards, blocking off part of the sidewalk along E Street? I'm sympathetic to the need for security, but these changes are incredibly inconvenient, appear to be mostly cosmetic, and unlikely to stop any attack, if one were to occur. And frankly, it just sends an ugly message, that a supposed symbol of freedom is suddenly not so free.

Marc Fisher: The email over the past week on the effects of last week's lockdown has been very depressing to read. There were stories about people having to prove to police that they really do live in their own house and could they please, pretty please, be allowed to go home? There were stories about people having to miss the ceremonies because they were stuck in two-hour queues to have their coats searched.
What's truly sad about all this is that it has no discernible impact on our security. Check out the difference between the National Gallery, which insists on maintaining an open face to the world, and the Smithsonian museums, which have bought into the Bush regime of Jersey barriers and fortress building. The Gallery feels much safer; it's like a visit to a free country.

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Washington, D.C.: Mark,
I can sympathize with your extended tour of jury duty but at least you had a worthwhile case. I had to endure a two week trial of someone who was charge with selling $10 worth of marijuana. The law is the law and people should not be free to break it, but we were all wondering why valuable judicial resources were being spent on the sale of a dime bag of pot. The good (or bad) news is that when it came time to deliberate it took us two days to reach a verdict.

Marc Fisher: And what did you decide? Two days on $10 of pot? It does sound silly; on the other hand, for a case of that nature to go to trial generally indicates that the defendant has had a long record of trouble, so there may be more going on than the jury is allowed to know--and that's another big problem with how juries are treated.

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To Logan Circle: The City of Falls Church has many interracial couples that I know peronally and, as far as I know, do not experience major problems.

Prejudice comes in many forms.

Marc Fisher: Yes, there are quite a few interracial couples who argue that they are more welcomed in a number of suburbs than in many parts of the city.

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Re: Logan Circle: Give us a break -- the slam against the burbs not welcoming a mixed race couple was undeserved. I live in a town house community in Falls Church with all sorts of people, including a white man/black woman couple with several children. These people are not ostracized in any way.

Marc Fisher: As I said.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I was a criminal defense attorney in the District of Columbia years ago. One reform that would greatly improve the process is to permit a more meaningful jury selection process. Because the lawyers know so little about the potential jurors, they may end up relying on race-based stereotypes during the selection process. The defendant is entitled to know whether potential jurors harbor biases or prejudices that would unfairly influence his or her vote. Most jurisdictions have a much more informative process that at least helps to address this issue.

Marc Fisher: Well, maybe, but my sense from watching many dozens of trials is that those questions don't tell you much about bias, but rather about the desire of particular jurors to serve or to get out of jury duty. Many of the answers people give are driven primarily by their desire to impress the judge with their need to get back to work, not their desire to open their hearts and prejudices to strangers.

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Washington, D.C.: Thanks for your column today on D.C. jury service. One thing I've noticed on my biennial trips to the jury room at Moultrie is that the individual judges are inconsistent in their attitudes towards the jurors. I can say it has improved greatly from the way we were treated by Mr. Suda (I can't bring myself to refer to him as a judge since he came across as the personification of evil; more like someone Hitler would have hired.) on my first trip. All the jurors were presumed guilty for being there. As you note, what about all the people who "no show" or never respond? I think had Suda been my only experience that day, I would have become a "no show" to future summonses, however, the second judge whose courtroom I was in that day showed appreciation for everyone being there and tried to accommodate everyone and move things along. One group that still needs a lot of work are the court clerks who shepherd jurors around to the court rooms. A lot of them have a tendency to make inappropriate comments and treat everyone as stupid or according to racial stereotypes.

In general, though the D.C. jury experience is one big civics and sociology lesson and I highly recommend it to all residents.

Marc Fisher: As one judge told me yesterday, some judges are good and some judges are not; some judges see juries as the heart of the system and some see them as an inconvenient encumbrance.

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New photo on the Web site: I like your updated photo on the Web site

Marc Fisher: Gee, thanks. I guess the producers across the river got sick and tired of staring at that old one, which I believe came from one of those $2 carnival booths.

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Washington, D.C.: Marc,

Marion Barry for D.C. Council Chairman... what do you think? With all eyes on the battle royal for mayor, could it be that the Ward 8 Council member takes a free swing (he's not up for re-election until 2008) at the top job on the Council?

Marc Fisher: Nah--he doesn't have the energy, health or means to mount a citywide campaign. And he knows that the city has changed and he would not win. He can do all he wants from his current perch--make mischief, fight for his causes, give the poor a voice, make some money and get back in the limelight. Notice how the TV stations suddenly have stories from the D.C. Council again, for the first time in years?

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Brandermill, Va.: Have you read about the "bullying" bill in the VA General Assembly? The bill would require schools to teach about "the inappropriateness of bullying, intimidation and harassment of others," and would make schools report to parents with guidelines for filing a juvenile petition and contacting law enforcement. Any thoughts on this?

Marc Fisher: I've heard about this, but haven't yet read the bill. This is part of the continuing and escalating criminalization of childhood. You want to get tough on bullies? Fine. But anytime a school has to call in the police, that is a sign of failure, not protection.

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Washington, D.C.: Marc --
I was very disappointed by the Post's coverage of security surrounding the inaugurations. One thing in particular bothered me, the situation around the convention center. A dense residential neighborhood was essentially sealed off for the inaugural balls. Yet the only coverage I read was administration flacks saying "almost nobody" lives there. Actually, there are a number of very large apartment buildings inside the security cordon, and thousands of people live in them. Also, the measures seemed more about convenience for ball guests than true security. Your comments?

Marc Fisher: Maybe we read different stories. The ones I read included comments from the residents of those apartments, very much along the lines of what you are saying. The metal barriers installed in front of those buildings were unsightly, a huge inconvenience and a sad symbol of how willing we are to mortgage our freedom to a theoretical threat.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Mr. Fisher:
Re: Red Light Cameras
Your esteemed colleague, Warren Brown, The Post's automotive writer, and I have had a few heated exchanges via e-mail about his dislike of red light cameras. I think they are right and just; he thinks they are unconstitutional. Disclaimer/disclosure: I am a practicing attorney, and I have been caught by a red light camera. I paid my $75.00 to Mont. Co. without protest, because I was WRONG to push the yellow light one day when in a hurry to get wherever I was going. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. Why shouldn't I be fined? I don't follow the constitutional issue at all.

Marc Fisher: There is no constitutional issue. If you want to fight a red light camera ticket, you can, and you face photographic evidence rather than a cop. There is, however, one issue that supporters of the cameras have not dealt with well, and that is the fact that you are held responsible even if you were not the driver of your vehicle when it blew the light. You can try to prove you weren't the driver, but good luck. And it's because of this problem that camera tickets hit you with fines, but not with points.

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Alexandria, Va.: Red-light cameras are a revenue-enhancing tool, nothing else. Why aren't points given for each infraction?

Marc Fisher: Yes, they are a revenue enhancer. No doubt about that. Mayor Williams got all embarrassed when he was caught saying just that. But he shouldn't be ashamed: he spoke the truth. But the cameras also make the roads safer.
Points aren't given because the cameras often are not precise enough to show that you and you alone were the driver of your car.

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Across the street from Superior Court: Glad you're back Marc! So, how did the toilets hold up while you were on jury duty?

Marc Fisher: Thanks--you have to head upstairs to the lesser-used facilities. The appeals court has nicer digs, up on the top floor. Avoid the basement facilities at all costs.

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Nats vs O's debate: So now its our fault, plus the fault of other owners that the Orioles have no big name free agent signings. Ummmm, keep making excuses about how your team is suffering but you have your priorities out of order. No one outside of the Bal/Wash area could name a single starting pitcher on their roster. They have zero front line starters and give up way too many runs. Go ahead and sign Delgado and Sexon, but you need to put up 10 runs a game to be close. Signing hitters makes sense in any other division, but when NY and Boston put up massive runs you need good arms. Its their own reluctance to trade players like Julio, Roberts, Hairston for a starter like Mulder, Hudson, Prior that were on the market.

Marc Fisher: Actually, I was astonished to read a quote from Evil Angelos in the Balto Sun the other day in which he for the first time admitted that his team's lousy off season is NOT repeat NOT the fault of the team "down the road." Rather, he blamed the O's failure to do anything of note to improve themselves on the overheated free agent market this winter. There is truth to that, of course, but it's also true that the O's have boatloads of money and can only position themselves to make even more money if they go out and buy better players.

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Alexandria, Va.: The Jan. 17 Style section had a great picture of trouble magnet Jim Moran in some kind of confrontation with NPR's Ken Rudin.

You can see the picture in the middle of the page at OUT & ABOUT (Post, Jan. 17)

Do you know what was going on?

Marc Fisher: I don't know, but I think it is fair to point out that getting Jim Moran excited about something is not the most difficult task on the planet.

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Del Ray, Va.: Great new photo!
I served on a jury a number of years ago in Arlington considering a case involving a serial flasher who had escalated to assault. We had to consider a whole smorgasbord of charges from kidnapping to attempted rape and murder and much of the deliberation was spent deciding on an appropriate sentence. All agreed on guilt. The majority was reluctant to convict on the kidnapping charge, although the defendant plainly was guilty, because it carried a minimum of 25 to life. All of the women on the jury wanted to give the guy at least 10 years. I was the lone male in the 10+ camp. After much wrangling, we negotiated 6 years. I felt really frustrated by the sentencing phase and its influence on the jury's deliberations. It is a function that should be in the hands of the judge and the jury should just decide guilt or innocence. What was your experience?

Marc Fisher: So my new mug shot leads you directly to a story about a serial flasher, huh? Maybe I should go back to my prison portrait.
In the District, sentencing is the judge's job; the jurors determine the facts and issue the verdict and then go home. That's probably as it should be, though of course in capital cases in death penalty states, it makes sense for juries to make that decision.

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Herndon, Va.: Mr. F: Your experience on jury duty reminded me of a seeming "disconnect" between Fairfax County and myself. I've lived and voted here since 1979, and have been called up once for jury duty -- and that for Federal service in Alexandria, not for the county.

Marc Fisher: Shocking as it may be, the District is actually ahead of many suburban jurisdictions in using multiple lists to cull the names of potential jurors. Some places that have not had too much trouble finding people to come in have stuck with the old ways of using just the drivers' licenses or voter rolls, while places that really need to produce more jurors are getting imaginative and grabbing hold of tax rolls--always the most accurate lists, because they have a deep interest in knowing where we are--and other sources.

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Washington, D.C.: Last year you wrote a series of columns regarding the ongoing violence at Sursum Corda Housing complex in DC. For a while there was talk about closing it, or at least turning it into market-rate housing. What's happened since then? Any updates?

Marc Fisher: Your timing is impeccable. I will be spending time at Sursum Corda next week for a future column on what's happening there.

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Washington, D.C.: Marc,

Weird question not about any of your columns (sorry):

Do you have any idea why all of the metal railings and most of the advertisements at Farragut West Metro station are covered in plastic and masking tape? It's been well over a month now, and the curiosity is killing me. I mean, it looks like my grandparents' house in there!

Marc Fisher: My grandmother always said it was to protect the fabric. Not long before she died, she was persuaded by various members of my family to take off the vinyl covering of the couch. We were all so shocked that we avoided sitting on the couch from that point onward. It seemed somehow sacrilegious.
No, I have no idea what's happening at that station.

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Problem with Red light cams: The main issue I have with the Red Light cameras is that there is no gray area. If a cop pulls you over for running a red light, he/she is making a judgement call about the safety conditions surrounding the incident, and whether it was necessary/prudent for you to gun it at the yellow, or slam on the brakes and risk a rear-ender. The camera can't make that judgement...thus, someone who gets caught in the intersection 2 seconds into a red light gets the same fine as someone who willfully blows through the signal.
I think there's a distinction here, and jurisdictions are more interested in reaping huge profits from these devices rather than being sympathetic to that distinction.

Marc Fisher: But couldn't you argue just as persuasively that the cops might be pulling you over because they don't like your face or they think you're a gang member or they hate little old ladies? The machine takes that out of the equation entirely and just tells us who is violating the law. Maybe this issue cuts like those do-it-yourself checkout lines at the Giant--those of us who prefer human contact choose real cashiers and real cops, and those of us who would rather trust machines go for the DIY aisle and red light cameras.

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Washington, D.C.: Where does it say that jurors are selected randomly. It says they're selected from voter rolls and other lists and that they must be "peers" as stipulated by the Constitution of 1787, but where does it say selection must be random?

Marc Fisher: Ok, what's the distinction between peers and random? How is a jury a jury of peers if, as in my case, it contains no Latinos or Spanish speakers and the trial is conducted largely in Spanish, with all Latino witnesses and defendants? I think we were fair and there were a number of folks on the jury who knew the neighborhood and milieu of the defendant, but I could easily hear someone making the argument that we were missing something.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Marc,

I am a Montgomery County resident, but after reading your article pertaining to your jury experience, I hate to say it, but it seems like in terms of race and society, "the more things change, the more they stay the same".

Marc Fisher: Alas, that's almost always the right bet in life.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hearing horror stories about jury duty makes me glad I am an attorney who lives in Virginia. Attorneys are exempt from jury duty in Virginia because of the concern that the other jurors, if they found out that one juror was an attorney, would give that person's opinion too much weight.

Regarding red light cameras, in Virginia it is sufficient for the owner to submit an affidavit that he was not driving the car. You have to go to a notary to do that, but it beats the fine, if you weren't driving.

Marc Fisher: We had a lawyer on our jury and she never said a word about her superior knowledge of the process or rules. I know plenty of juries that have had lawyers who behaved like regular human beings. Of course, I've also heard about lawyers who've tried to take over their juries. New York recently scrapped its exemptions for various professions that had automatically been excused from jury duty, and that's the right move--all citizens should be part of the process.

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London, UK: They have a much more efficient jury system in the UK. The first 12 (or however many) people are seated, and that's that. People are presumed to be able to do their job impartially. The only excuses are if you are related to one of the parties. No system is perfect, but from what I've been able to observe (I lived in DC 1992-98) ours seems to work as well as yours.

Marc Fisher: Agreed--the Europeans are much stricter about juries really representing their communities. The arguments for our system of strikes are very weak--they always come down to the lawyers' seeking an edge, and the system should be constructed against that.

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Washington, D.C.: I think a lot of people are being unfair to the courts! The judges and clerks who work there have to deal with people all day who rarely want to be in the court (jurors, defendants, witnesses). I think they show a lot of patience. If not for the judges and clerks (who do not get paid very much by the way) who would make sure there was justice in the city?

Marc Fisher: Most of the clerks I've seen do good work and, as you say, do it under trying conditions. I can't say as much for the judges. Some are terrific; some are just awful. The District as a whole suffers terribly from having a court system that is far removed from the people; electing judges brings the system much closer to those it serves and guarantees much greater attention to the needs of jurors, witnesses, victims and defendants.

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Racial Divides in Washington, D.C.: I'm white and ride the 96 daily from Adams Morgan to Cap Hill. As the bus fills up, nothing bothers/ saddens me more than when a fellow white rider will walk past empty seats next to black riders to sit next to me. It is painfully obvious to me what this person is doing and it really, really drives me nuts.

Marc Fisher: Really? I used to ride the bus up to Adams Morgan every day and my experience was the opposite--people will sit next to anyone (except those teenagers who like to antagonize by sitting with their legs spread wide open) rather than have to hang on a pole for 20 minutes.

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Mt Pleasant, Washington, D.C.: How about the District's RPP: Rich People's Parking policy. In my neighborhood, the single family homeowners, the ones with the $600,000 houses, two cars, and basement renters, can get residential parking. But if you live in one of the apartment buildings, or live closer to Mt. Pleasant Street, you can't. How come the parking favors the landed class?

Since a parking space now sells for $35,000, how about they add that to their tax assessment.

Marc Fisher: Is that true? There's no distinction in the parking law between renters and owners. You must be talking about one block being zoned for residential parking and another being open to all comers. The fix is easy: If you get 50 percent or more of the residents of the block to sign a petition requesting residential parking only, the city will make the change.

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Anonymous: I've always wanted to serve on a jury, but have never been called once -- 62 year old white female, registered voter, property owner. What's wrong with moi? So, I console myself with watching my video tape of 12 Angry Men.

Marc Fisher: Wow--you must not live in the District. If you do, you have achieved a monumental disappearing act. But there are worse consolations--I love that movie, especially John Fidler, America's greatest character actor of that era.

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Alexandria, Va.: I would have thought your occupation as a Post columnist would have been enough to keep you from being picked for a jury. Or did no one ask about that?

Marc Fisher: I was astonished, floored. I had been called to jury duty easily 20 times before and always been tossed, either because of what I do or because my wife is a former prosecutor. But this time, they didn't seem to care about what I do, as long as the courts were not my daily beat, and they never asked about my wife. So there I was. Thrilled. Amazed. The judges I've spoken to about my experience pronounced themselves very jealous.

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Mixed couples: Oh, so you KNOW mixed couples and they're not ostracized?

And how exactly do you know that? Do you walk in their shoes every day? Get taxis with them? Eat as restaurants as them? Ride the Metro as them? Maybe they just don't start every conversation with, "Seven taxis passed me this morning before I decided to take the bus."

Just because you don't want them to be ostracized doesn't mean they aren't.

Marc Fisher: I don't think the poster was saying there was no ostracism, but only that life in the suburbs was easier for that couple than in the city.

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Alexandria, Va. (ex-juror in Washington, D.C. and Alexandria, Va.): Your DC jury duty experience came as a relatively pleasant yawn. Before I got sick of the mess and moved to Alexandria, I was called to serve on a DC jury. Upon my arrival in the former central jurors' registration room, we were all told that the jury pool group for which we had been summoned was partially "invalid" -- no coherent explanation was offered. We were told to come back each business day for two weeks. When two of us objected and asked why the call-in system couldn't be used, a supervisor came out, looked at our summonses, and told us that because of our "bad attitudes" we would have our reporting extended for an additional two weeks. I had to call a lawyer I know to find out how to exit that mess. It finally took a phone call to a Judge's chambers to have us released as a group -- at one point the deputy clerk threatened to have us arrested for contempt! (He was never disciplined in any way).

Two years ago I was summoned to jury duty in Alexandria. Only one initial morning appearance, a simple call-in system, and a strict empanel-or-release rule. And they ask why people move to Virginia.

Marc Fisher: Sounds like that was either in federal court or a very long time ago, because D.C. has used a one-day/one-trial system for many years.

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Springfield, Va.: Hi Marc, What is the rationale behind the driving restriction imposed upon teenage drivers that allows only 1 non-family member to be in a car driven by a 16 year old? I would think that this would mean more vehicles on the road driven by 16 year old drivers. I understand how having a group of teenagers in a single car can be a potential time bomb, but by the same token having 4 separate vehicles driven by teenagers isn't a very good alternative.

Marc Fisher: The issue is distraction. The stats say kids are far more likely to crash if there are other kids in the car, and that makes sense. Maryland may move this session to tighten restrictions on who's allowed in the car when new teen drivers are behind the wheel.

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Seat selection: I, on the other hand, will choose to sit next to another woman, regardless of color. Now I feel like a sexist pig!

Marc Fisher: Probably most men will do that too.

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Washington, D.C.: "The fix is easy: If you get 50 percent or more of the residents of the block to sign a petition requesting residential parking only, the city will make the change."

It's actually not that simple. I went through the process a few years ago. If you get the signatures, the city will consider your request, but ultimately the DOT does what it thinks best.

Marc Fisher: I sit corrected. But I have seen the petition process work well.

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Downtown Washington, D.C.: Enjoyed your column on jury duty. I (white female) have served on DC petit juries, a DC grand jury, and a federal jury. NEVER AGAIN. The worst was DC grand jury. While I was unavailable to my company from 9:30 am - 5 PM for 25 days, I was being maneuvered out of my job. It's not a good idea to be out of the office when your company is looking to make cutbacks. A scheming coworker played the situation to get my job in addition to her own (serves her right, to some extent). I could have sued, I suppose, but how long would that have taken, and in the end I might have lost. I took the paltry severance I was offered. As I said, never again. Ever.

Marc Fisher: Ugly. Grand jury is another story entirely. That system is dominated by retirees and the unemployed; the terms of a grand jury are way too long and it's a questionable system to start with. A story for another day.

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Georgetown, Washington, D.C.: OOH OOH OOH quick last question:

David Catania named his cute kitty "Lillian Rosenberg," this according the meet-the council members supplement in the Post a few weeks ago.

This appears to be a stunning insight into the man's psyche, but I no idea what it means.

Your thoughts?

Marc Fisher: I have been mulling this ever since I read it in the District Extra a few weeks ago. It must be massively meaningful. It is obviously the key to his entire character. We must get to the bottom of this. (I would ask Catania, but that would take all the fun out of it.) Next week we can make a project of this. Right here. But not now--we're out of time.
Thanks for coming along. Stay warm. Pray for snow.

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